Quenten White stood outside of the Victoria Police Department at 8 a.m. Monday by himself.
In the rain, White held up a sign that read “All Lives Matter When Black Lives Matter” and demanded justice for George Floyd, a black man who died on May 25 while a white Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin his neck to the pavement for several minutes.
The officer, Derek Chauvin, and three of his colleagues at the scene were fired after a video of the incident surfaced. Chauvin was later arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Since Floyd’s death, thousands of people throughout the country have taken to the streets to protest, including a few in Victoria.
About 20 people protested Floyd’s death on Friday along Navarro Street and a group of 25 people protested at DeLeon Plaza on Monday.
White left the police department at about 3 p.m. to march with the group from De Leon Plaza to the Victoria Police Department and Victoria County Sheriff’s Office.
Blake Demuth, an 18-year-old Victoria woman, said she decided to organize a group to protest Floyd’s death after watching people pour into the streets in bigger cities. The weather was not ideal, but she was pleased with the turn out.
“We thought it would be advantageous to bring it here, to a smaller town, to make people listen and raise awareness,” she said. “Even if this little protest doesn’t make a huge difference, we’re still speaking up to help the people who can’t – who are being silenced.”
Unrest grew during the weekend in several cities, where pockets of peaceful protests escalated into violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement, property damage and looting.
Patrick Rodriguez, a 22-year-old Victoria man among protesters at De Leon Plaza on Monday, said he was in San Antonio last weekend watching the rallies get out of control.
“It was crazy. I had to back up,” he said. “I didn’t want to protest there because I don’t believe in rioting. I just wanted to peacefully protest.”
On Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott added Texas to a growing list of states placed under disaster declarations in response to demonstrations after activating the Texas National Guard on Saturday. The declaration allows Abbott to designate federal law enforcement officers to perform the duty of peace officers statewide.
“Every Texan and every American has the right to protest and I encourage all Texans to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Abbott said in a statement. “However, violence against others and the destruction of property is unacceptable and counterproductive.”
While violence was reported at protests in Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, the protesters in Victoria exercised their First Amendment right with their voices and signs.
They were peaceful and at no time posed a risk to public safety, Chief J.J. Craig, of the Victoria Police Department, said in an email.
Craig fully respects the right to peacefully assemble and address grievances, he said, but “strongly condemns” acts of violence from those who are rioting and posing public safety risks.
He called the death of Gorge Floyd “tragic” and said he was disturbed to hear about the actions of officers involved.
“Their actions are contrary to the oath, we as law enforcement officers, have all taken to protect and serve the community,” he said. “It is unfortunate that this poor policing action overshadows the courageous and professional work done by our nation’s law enforcement.”
Protesters’ chants were met with mixed reactions from passersby. Many honked in support, while others rolled down their windows and mocked them.
White said a person threw a water bottle at him in the morning and yelled, “All lives matter,” but he also had peaceful interactions.
Three different police officers came out of the building throughout the day and offered White water, shook his hand and told him they respected him, he said.
“I have a new outlook on police officers from that,” he said. “I was very surprised.”
Three representatives from the department, including Deputy Chief Mark Jameson, also stood outside the department and waved as the group of protesters marched by.
While disappointing, the small turn out in Victoria was not surprising, White said.
“I don’t know if it is because it is raining or the virus or what,” he said “I think the black community needs to come together more because we all relate to this. My brothers didn’t want to come because they said they didn’t want to get shot ... I think a lot of people are scared.”
Many are also tired, he said.
“This has been going on for years and years – since we came to this country, about 400 years,” White said. “It is time for everybody to stand up.”