EDINBURG — Protests surrounding the death of George Floyd and police brutality spread to the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday as well over 100 people gathered in front of city hall along University Drive here to voice their displeasure with law enforcement’s treatment of minorities nationwide and call for change.
Floyd’s death after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest has sparked protests and riots nationwide.
Protestors bore banners and signs calling for law enforcement reform and voicing solidarity with Floyd and other high-profile deaths of minority individuals in police custody.
“No justice, no peace,” the demonstrators chanted frequently.
“Black lives matter,” they shouted at other times.
Frequently, cars passing by honked and flashed thumbs up signs in a display of solidarity.
Several police officers stood in the parking lot of city hall, interacting with the protesters infrequently. Occasionally one would walk up to a clump of protesters who had assembled too close to the roadway and direct them away from traffic.
Chief Cesar Torres, who watched part of the protest, described it as peaceful in nature.
“No problems,” Torres said, indicating he would comment on the demonstration later this week.
The demonstration was spurred by a Facebook event created earlier this week that was widely circulated online. Zak Borgia, the creator of the event and one of the protests organizers, said he was surprised by the amount of attention the protest garnered and that the event was postponed Saturday morning due to safety concerns.
“There were certain types of threats being made towards some of the organizers, and for their own safety they have kind of had to step back from this just a bit,” he said. “The threat of any brown or black lives at this event potentially being lost, we just couldn’t fathom that anymore, so that’s why we decided to reschedule.”
Borgia declined to elaborate on the nature of the threats, but the protest unfolded despite the cancellation. According to Borgia, the purpose of the protest and the purpose of the protest he and seven fellow organizers have scheduled for next Saturday is to combat racism in the Rio Grande Valley and support victims of racism.
“The Valley is a predominately white and Latinx community and our culture has a lot of deep rooted racism and anti-blackness just imbedded in us since we were children, so this is pretty much what we’re doing out here,” he said. “We’re coming out here to show solidarity for our black brothers and sisters who are being murdered every single day just for simply existing, and we’re here to address anti-blackness in the Valley. We’re here to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who get murdered, and we are here to call for justice and action in the case of George Floyd.”
Borgia, a UTRGV student and activist, said that although the event was nominally canceled, he was onsite Saturday to ensure the demonstration remained peaceful.
“We want to make sure everything stays peaceful. We want to make sure everyone stays safe,” he said
Mission resident Marsha Terry, who took part in the protest with her sons, said she was there to set an example.
“One of the major things is to bring awareness. Number one, there are people of color, minorities, black people here in the Rio Grande Valley. Also, I’m a mother, I have two boys,” she said. “It’s very disturbing what happened in the news this week, that happened in two areas, and I’m concerned that that could happen to my children when they leave this area, so my reason for being here is to bring awareness to my children who are both here so they know that without justice there is no peace, that black lives matter and that we have to stand up for something.”
Theresa Gatling, a pastor from McAllen, said she took part in the demonstration to make a difference. She drew hope from the protest.
“We’re all here for the same reason. There’s too much injustice going on. African-Americans are being killed at a very high rate, unarmed and for no reason. There’s too much fear for African-Americans, there’s fear against the police, and there shouldn’t be. We are all one people, and we need to figure out how to work together,” she said. “I love the fact that we’ve got so many of everybody, of different cultures, represented. We have black and white, hispanic, just everybody here, and I think that says something. Maybe it’s because we’re from here, from the Rio Grande Valley, maybe it says something about us.”