Several hundred people braved the 94 Texas degree heat on Saturday — the majority in face masks — to protest racism and police brutality.
Megaphone in hand, Dr. Theresa Gatling stood in the bed of a red pick-up truck parked at the protest in Edinburg.
“Hi everybody,” Gatling said to a large diverse crowd gathered around her. “I’m so happy that we are all out here in support of Black Lives Matter.”
“I think a lot of the things that we’re seeing with (counter-protesters) is because of ignorance. It’s because they don’t know their African American fellow human beings.”
Gatling stood at the center of a sea of signs that read, “Tu Lucha es Mi Lucha,” “Your Fight is My Fight,” “Black Trans Lives Matter” and “White Silence is Violence.”
Demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd continued across the U.S. this weekend, with hundreds of thousands of people protesting. Including people in Edinburg — a city of more than 100,000 in the Rio Grande Valley.
There, the protesters also tried to call attention to a less talked about issue: anti-blackness and racism in the Latinx community.
Gatling is the president of Village in the Valley.
“It’s a nonprofit organization that was formed last year to create connections among the African Americans here in the Valley and even more importantly to broaden our reach into the other cultures, so that we can learn more about each other,” said Gatling. “We can bridge the gap between African Americans and Mexican Americans.”
Delores Smith helped organize the protest.
“We are here to protest for the reform that the police institution is needing and the reform that the prison system is needing,” she said.
Smith said as a Black woman, this has always been important to her.
“Just to show that there is solidarity for people who look like me and my family and to erase anti-Blackness within the Valley and bring light to that conversation," she said.
Smith also said people shouldn’t forget that anti-Blackness and racism are still alive here in the Rio Grande Valley.
“Just yesterday (Friday) at the McAllen protest we had a man chase protesters with a chainsaw while screaming racial slurs,” Smith said.
Downtown McAllen pic.twitter.com/kT2AwxTuKr
— Edson Grim (@TheHousePlug_) June 5, 2020
In a now viral video from Friday, 44-year-old Daniel Peña is seen revving a chainsaw at protesters.
“Go home! Go home!” Peña shouts at the protesters.
He tells them this is the Valley, not, “up there.”
Peña rips a sign away from a protester, then walks to his truck, pulls out a chainsaw and turns it on them.
He’s now being charged with four counts of deadly conduct and one count of assault.
While the scene is shocking, it’s not surprising to some in the Valley.
Arianna Quiroz tells the crowd at the protest about some of the things she heard growing up in a Latino household.
“I heard, ‘Stay out of the sun or you will get too dark.’ If you have kids with a light skin, ‘Man your babies will be so cute’,” she said. “These microaggressions, even meant with no malice, are intertwined with racism.”
Quiroz said she was disappointed to see people within her community use that type of language.
“It hurts my soul so much to see our Latin community use racial slurs to talk down to our black brothers and sisters,” she said. “How disgraceful it is to be a minority in this country and to think that you are better than another.”
Throughout the day, demonstrators chant things like “Black and Brown Stand Your Ground” and “Say Their Names.” An eight minute and 46 second moment of silence was also held in honor of the murdered victims of police brutality.
In the late afternoon people march for several blocks through the city, but as the march winds down, some start singing, dancing and chanting.
Dancing, singing and chanting at today’s peaceful protest in Edinburg in the #RGV to stand in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter, demand justice & change after George Floyd’s death & talk about anti blackness in the Latinx community pic.twitter.com/Y3Y1l0aNK0
— Reynaldo Leaños Jr. (@ReynaldoLeanos) June 7, 2020
Jamel Stokely and his wife, who brought their children, were among those dancing and chanting.
“It’s a history moment. The history moment needs to be shared with all our kids,” he said. “My kids right now are never going to forget this moment. They’re going to cherish this moment forever.”
He criticized the handling of George Floyd’s death and said the officer involved should have been immediately fired and arrested. Derek Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder. After days of nationwide protests, his charges now include second-degree murder and the three other former officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder.
“Because if it was somebody else, like me and you out there putting our knees on somebody’s neck we’d be arrested (immediately),” Stokely said. “A murder is a murder, no matter if you have a badge, no matter if you have a place and a title to where it says you can protect people, but that’s what you’re supposed to do, protect. You’re not supposed to harm people.”
Stokely is originally from Illinois, but recently moved to the Valley.
“Valley, I’m speaking to you, we are all going to come together. One way or another because it’s not just about George Floyd, it’s not just about Breonna Taylor, it’s not just about black, or white, or brown. This is history,” Stokely said. “Laws are going to be changed, demands are going to be met. So right now, stand up for the cause.”
Organizers say they want to keep this Black Lives Matter momentum going and are planning online conversations digging into topics brought up today. Other advocates want to hold meetings with law enforcement and local leaders in the Rio Grande Valley.
The protest, they say, is just the start.
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