Culture / Newsy

Beyond Massive Crowd for George Floyd March Shows Houston’s Heart, and Hope for Change — a Grieving Family’s Remarkable Grace Allows a City to Come Together

Two Rappers Showed a Different Way, But It's Only a Start

BY // 06.02.20

The crowd marched as one in Houston’s customary intense June heat, taking a route that covered about 11 city blocks, welcoming all who came. Many more wore face masks than did not. This was a caring procession, a moving river pushing for change, a walking army of hope.

Eight days after George Floyd had the life choked out of him on a Minneapolis street by the knee of a police officer who pinned him down for more than eight minutes on the pavement as he struggled for breath, the fourth largest city in America showed the entire nation how a community can come together. And demand more. Demand better from those who swear to protect and serve. From all of us.

Houston showed in force. And so did its heart. Rappers/activists Bun B and Trae tha Truth organized this march for George Floyd and people from across the  city, and region, answered their call. Lakewood celebrity preacher Joel Osteen (who drew boos on being introduced, which Bun B tried to quell) came. So did Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson did not go out of his way to try and be noticed, though. This was not a photo op for one of the most recognizable athletes in the city.

Some well-known politicians like Sheila Jackson Lee spoke. But the words of the members of George Floyd’s family who spoke meant more. Sixteen family members of the Floyd family stood on the stage area at City Hall as thousands and thousands listened.

The crowd was massive — with some of the marchers unable to even reach City Hall from Discovery Green, where the march began, before half of the speeches were done. At one point, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner pegged the crowd size at 60,000 (though his office later tried to clarify that was just an unofficial count, an organizer’s loose estimate). In truth, it may not have been quite that large, but crowd size estimates always widely vary for massive public gatherings like this.

What was clear was this is the type of crowd size usually only approached when a city is celebrating a major professional sports championship these days. It’s no stretch to declare this the largest single crowd seen in downtown Houston since the Astros 2017 world championship parade. All those people marching in support of Black Lives Matter.

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That’s more than a powerful symbol. That’s a walking tide of what should be revolutionary change.

Perhaps Bun B says it best when he shoots back, “Most everybody” when someone asks how many people he thinks are there.

Most everybody can be seen in the racial and age mix of the marchers. Some parents bring their kids, wanting them to see this moment. This movement. This bit of history. Other adults come with older parents. There are multiple generations, couples holding hands, groups of friends, large groups of older teens and twentysomethings. A group of trail riders on horseback even show (there are also police on horseback).

“We want to thank you,” Trae tha Truth says when he takes the mic. “We had no idea if it was going to be 10 people or 10,000.”

For The People?

Tra tha Truth tries to thank Turner at one point for the city blessing this march for George Floyd, but the mayor waves that off.

“This day is not about City Hall,” Turner says. “Quite frankly, this is your city. This is your hall. It does not belong to me.”

Just one day after a peaceful Washington D.C. protest was thrown into horrific chaos when police and the National Guard used tear gas to disperse the crowd so President Donald Trump could walk down the street, Houston showed there is a much better way.

A way where everyone seems to come together. For at least a few hours.

“Never would I have thought we’d have this many people for my brother, man,” one of George Floyd’s brothers says at the microphone. Floyd’s family will talk about how they do not want violent protests — and under Houston’s sunny skies that overwhelmingly does not happen.

Instead the crowd shouts out George Floyd’s name and “I can’t breathe,” hold up handmade signs that show support for Black Lives Matters and rail against a culture of racism and police brutality.

George Floyd March Houston
Houston’s George Floyd march turned out to be one of the largest peaceful protests in America. (Photo by Kara Smith)

Later as nightfall begins, Mayor Turner takes to Twitter and asks the crowd that’s left to leave. “For those remaining in the downtown area from the march, please clear the area and return home. This has been an incredible day for #GeorgeFloyd and his family.”

There would be Twitter reports of a few tense moments with Houston police standing as a line to block off several streets, herding the crowd into big groups, and making it hard to move around with darkness approaching. Someone from the crowd (not the police) sets off a tear gas canister as evening hits. Later, water bottles are thrown and several arrests are made as the night goes on and some of the tone shifts.

Still, this day is not about that. The world will soon be coming to Houston for the funeral of George Floyd, a proud son of the Third Ward, a black man who had his life stolen from him in broad daylight. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is expected to attend Floyd’s memorial next week in Houston.

But first Houston came together as a city. As a collective force for change. As caring human beings who see so many of their neighbors and friends hurting from police brutality and the systematic oppression of black Americans.

“We’re supporting 16 members of his family,” Turner says, turning to George Floyd’s relatives. “We want them to know that George did not die in vain.”

One march under the Houston sun — no matter how large, no matter how powerful, no matter how much it shows another way — cannot come close to shifting the world. Real change has to happen one determined step after another after another after another. . . until everyone finally gets somewhere.

City Hall is not the destination for these marchers. It’s just the start. “We’re only beginning,” Bun B promises.

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