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Government/Politics

‘You’re Gonna Get It Next’ — Violent Incident Prompts Protest Against Schertz Police Department

Schertz Protest
Dominic Anthony Walsh
/
Texas Public Radio
Protesters continue chanting shortly after the Schertz mayor called a five-minute recess.

After 18-year-old Zekee Rayford allegedly ran a traffic light, he saw flashing red and blue lights behind his car. Instead of immediately stopping, he sought safety nearby at his father’s home. When he got to the front door, Schertz police officers repeatedly tased and kicked him.

As Rayford screamed for his father, a family member opened the door. An officer told them, “You better relax, or you’re gonna get it next. I promise you you will.”

The video quickly went viral. Rayford now faces a felony charge and two misdemeanors.

In a written statement, the Schertz police department confirmed the opening of an internal investigation into the officers’ actions. The department declined to answer any other questions about the incident or the officers involved. All seven city councilmembers and the mayor declined to comment.

Members of the Rayford family said Zekee feared for his life because he’s Black, and that he clearly did not pose a threat to the officers.

Schertz is a mostly white, conservative-leaning area to the northeast of San Antonio. The sleepy city of about 41,000 doesn’t have the activist infrastructure of an urban area, so the Defund Police SA group stepped in to organize a rally. Protesters filled several rows of seats at a city council meeting on Tuesday night.

Only one person — a white Schertz resident — signed up for the open public comment in time to speak about the officers’ use of force.

“As I watched that video play out, a couple things struck me,” he said. “Number one: was the amount of force necessary in the situation? And then two: training dictates that you try to — in those situations — deescalate a situation, not escalate a situation.”

Schertz Mayor Ralph Gutierrez responded by saying that he was not authorized to directly address public comments about topics not on the official agenda. He then read a prepared statement about the incident, which was not on the official agenda.

“We appreciate and value your presence and concerns. It is regrettable our city is enduring this situation,” he said. “However, when laws are broken, we turn to our law enforcement to restore order and protect our community, for without laws, there is no order.”

He went on to say that the community must “start the healing process.”

The council then carried on with the matters of municipal management, addressing land use issues and responding to public comments about foxes and deer, among other items.

The crowd grew restless and began chanting, but Zekee Rayford’s stepmother Dina Rayford asked them to stay quiet. She then attempted to speak, but was cut off by Mayor Gutierrez. He insisted the chamber stay focused on the agenda items — in this case, a lot of land.

dina.jpg
Dominic Anthony Walsh
Dina Rayford attempts to speak to the Schertz city council.

Rayford responded, “The privilege of worrying about lots, not lives?”

The crowd murmured in dissent as an elderly white man took the podium to speak about the unused piece of land. When he finished, Mayor Gutierrez addressed the protesters.

“We’re here to discuss city matters,” he said. “You had the opportunity. You showed up late.”

Rayford took the podium, but was again cut off by the gavel-banging mayor. “Can you behave yourself in a professional manner,” he said to Rayford.

The crowd’s discontent bubbled into unrest.

“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room,” one protestor shouted.

The mayor called a five-minute recess. This time, instead of quelling them, Rayford joined the chants of “No justice, no peace.”

Schertz Protest
Dominic Anthony Walsh
Debbie Bush puts herself between protestors and Schertz police officers.

Debbie Bush — the aunt of Marquise Jones, who was shot and killed by San Antonio law enforcement in 2014 — put herself between the Schertz police officers and the protesters. She guided them out of the chambers while Rayford stayed behind. Gutierrez approached her, and allowed her to add her name to an additional period of open public comment.

After the council finished their considerations of the land issue, they allowed Rayford to speak about local law enforcement’s treatment of her son.

She described herself as Zekee’s “harshest critic,” and said that he should have complied with officers’ instructions. She also said that his actions were entirely understandable given the past and present history of racial profiling and police brutality in the United States, and that officers should not have kicked him as he lay on the ground. The mayor thanked her for her comments. She asked for a response. The mayor said he could not respond to items not on the agenda.

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Dominic Anthony Walsh
A staffer blocks off a ramp as the Schertz city council starts a five-minute recess.

Outside the building, Rayford sounded tired and frustrated with the broader circumstances that led to the arrest.

“It’s so sad that at 18 year olds, you got to be so nervous that you can’t stop because you have to worry about ‘What's going to happen if I stop?'” she said.

She repeated that her son should be held responsible, but that the city’s decision to focus on his actions alone was hypocritical.

“They want to hold Zekee accountable for his actions, so what are they doing for those police officers? What is their accountability?” she asked.

Rayford said she plans to return when the incident is placed on the official agenda.