This has been a rough week, as much in Texas as around the rest of the U.S. On May 25, George Floyd, a longtime Houston resident living in Minneapolis, was choked to death by a police officer there as three other officers looked on. Since then, streets across America have grown increasingly tense, as protesters were met in many locations by heavily armed police. There were instances of looting, of police attacking peaceful protesters, and of other police officers and elected officials marching (or kneeling) with them—all while the coronavirus spread silently among the crowds. As we enter the second week of protests amid the pandemic, we’re rounding up another edition of Bests and the Bums, our periodic look at both the Best Things in Texas and our state’s Bum Steers.
There’s seldom anything uplifting about a six-year-old girl who has just lost her father. The tragedy of George Floyd’s death will affect his young daughter, Gianna, for the rest of her life. Still, as Americans around the country protest the system that allows persistent abusers like Floyd’s killer to remain in uniform, they can take inspiration from Gianna’s response. At a rally in Houston on Tuesday evening, the little girl, sitting on the shoulders of an adult looking after her, gazed into a cellphone camera and stated simply: “My daddy changed the world.”
The Nonstop Riders
Amid the widespread protests in Texas and around the country, something else happened in Houston on Tuesday afternoon: a striking, iconic moment, courtesy of the city’s Nonstop Riders club.
Cheers rose up from the crowd as these dudes rolled up. Clip-clip-clip-clop. pic.twitter.com/x1h8UpmyQy— Mike Hixenbaugh (@Mike_Hixenbaugh) June 2, 2020
Texas history, as it’s been told in Hollywood and taught in schools, hasn’t often focused on the role of African American and Latino cowboys, or the role they’ve played in shaping Texas culture. This image—of dozens of black Texans on horseback (at least one of whom wore a “Black Cowboys Matter” T-shirt)—is as singularly “Texas” as one of the Alamo.
As protests spread across America, President Trump threatened to invoke the rarely used Insurrection Act of 1807 to mobilize active-duty military units for domestic policing operations. Texas governor Greg Abbott rejected Trump’s offer and declared in a press conference that “Texans can take care of Texans,” de-escalating the rhetoric from his party’s leader in a moment of crisis.
Ted Cruz has long proclaimed his love for the U.S. Constitution and bemoaned the rising power of the federal government at the expense of individual and states’ rights. That belief system was less apparent this week. After law enforcement officers used tear gas, rubber bullets, and clubs to attack peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights in a park near the White House, Cruz was asked by a reporter on Tuesday whether those actions represented an abuse of power. He replied, “by the protesters, yes.” It remains unclear what power the protesters abused, as video of the event showed that they were unarmed and unthreatening.
The protests in Austin last weekend weren’t just in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. They were also motivated by the recent death of an unarmed man at the hands of local police. Michael Ramos, 42, was killed in late April after being pulled over by Austin police on suspicion of illegal drug use, because his car matched the description of a vehicle identified in a 911 call. Ramos, unarmed, exited his vehicle with his hands up and his waistband exposed. An officer then shot him in the stomach with a flexible baton round. (Flexible baton rounds are number-nine lead shot in a fabric bag fired from a shotgun. They are intended to be “less lethal” but can still cause serious injuries.) After being shot, Ramos got back into his car and began driving away—at which point he was killed by an officer firing a rifle. The officer, who is on administrative leave, has not been charged with a crime.
When Austin protesters tried to block Interstate 35 and gathered near police headquarters last weekend, police chief Brian Manley’s officers responded with more baton rounds, firing hard plastic projectiles at protesters and into crowds. Among those injured were 16-year-old Brad Levi Ayala, who was shot in the head with a baton round while standing in the grass along the highway, and who suffered a skull fracture and a brain injury in the attack; Justin Howell, whose older brother identified him as the critically injured victim of another baton round intended, according to Manley, for a man who threw a water bottle at APD headquarters; and Saraneka Martin, a pregnant woman who was shot in the stomach by a baton round on Sunday. At an emergency Austin City Council meeting on Thursday evening, hundreds of Austinites offered impassioned public testimony about APD’s handling of the protests. Manley said APD would no longer use beanbag ammo in crowd situations, which at least one council member immediately said was inadequate.
The Dallas Sword Guy
On Saturday night in Dallas, one civilian saw demonstrators in the streets and decided to single-handedly defend his favorite Deep Ellum bar, and his apartment building nearby—by wielding a machete.
C.A. Shoultz, who identified himself as the machete guy in question, has turned out to be a rather colorful figure. Though he’s since deleted his Twitter account, users searching his feed found that he was a sword-fighting enthusiast with strong opinions on the art of the duel. He was also, unbelievably, the author of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan-fiction stories. Shoultz was in stable condition after getting, as he put it, “his ass kicked” for charging after a group of protesters.
Texas GOP County Leaders
On Thursday, Republican leaders, including Abbott and Dan Patrick, called for the resignation of Bexar County GOP chairwoman Cynthia Brehm after she made a Facebook post proclaiming her belief that George Floyd’s death was a hoax propagated for the “purpose of creating racial tensions” to turn back what she speculated was a “rising approval rating of President Trump in the black community,” rather than the latest part of a generations-long continuum of police violence against black citizens. Not long after the statewide leaders called for Brehm’s resignation, though, Texans learned she wasn’t alone: Nueces County GOP chair Jim Kaelin had posted a similar message, as did the Republican Party chair in East Texas’s Harrison County, Lee Lester. Meanwhile, a post from Harris County GOP chairman-elect Keith Nielsen, which juxtaposed a Martin Luther King Jr. quote with a banana—widely interpreted as a racist trope comparing black people to monkeys—attracted attention from party leaders like Congressman Dan Crenshaw, who told the Texas Tribune that “Nielsen has no place in our party.” Later that evening, yet another post—this one from Comal County GOP chair Sue Piner—trafficked in both anti-Semitic and racist tropes, featuring a meme of Jewish billionaire George Soros and speculation that he “pay[s] black people to riot”—led Texas land commissioner George P. Bush, a Republican, to call for the resignation of all of the county leaders involved.