UPDATE: George Floyd solidarity protests in the Rio Grande Valley
Updated: Jul 1
By Jonathan Salinas
As global protests against police brutality stir, solidarity protests have both grown and sustained across the Rio Grande Valley.
Beginning at the end of May, just days after the video-taped murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, over 200 people gathered outside Edinburg City Hall, despite organizers’ attempt to postpone the action the morning-of, citing safety concerns. And although Edinburg Police were on the scene, at a time when images of riots and looting erupting throughout the country flashed across the media, no incidents occurred. This was just the beginning.
George Floyd Solidarity Protest. 30 May 2020. Edinburg, Texas.
A week later in McAllen, just as many people convened outside McAllen City Hall.
George Floyd Solidarity Protest. June 4. McAllen, Texas.
Again in Edinburg on June 6, over 500 gathered outside Edinburg City Hall, this time without a police officer in sight. This mass gathering came after a man brandished a chainsaw at protesters near McAllen City Hall, June 4, while shouting racist slurs, telling protesters to "go home." The chainsaw controversy caused a stir and may have actually encouraged more people to come out, as the incident made Valley-wide and even some nationwide headlines.
George Floyd Solidarity Protest. 6 June 2020. Edinburg, Texas.
The Rio Grande Valley community demonstrated with their numbers that they would not be intimidated from demanding justice. The man yielding the chainsaw was quickly arrested and charged on multiple counts by the McAllen Police Department, prompting a public apology by McAllen Mayor, Jim Darling, on Twitter.
On June 20 in Brownsville, a march against racist monuments was held. Days before, the Jefferson Davis statue in Washington Park was vandalized with blank paint, the words “Black Lives Matter” superimposed on the monument, which for the last four years has been the target of several protests. The Brownsville City Council voted the next day to remove the statue, at a meeting where the monument would once again be on the agenda. It was removed that evening.
Finally on June 22 at Bannworth Park in Mission, around 60 people sustained demands for justice.
George Floyd Solidarity Protest. 20 June 2020. Mission, Texas.
Almost all the protests called in recent weeks have been organized by individuals, often students, as opposed to upper middle class political organizations, which is a refreshing development in the region. In this respect, the protests have largely been organic.
Village in the Valley (ViVa), a black-led organization, has been present and vocal at the events, including the last protest in Mission. Dr. Teresa Gatling, President and co-Founder of ViVa, has vocalized ViVa’s mission on each occasion, to bring together black and Latino business people in the Valley, as well as those business people of other nationalities, in the interest of "economic development." Gatling echoes calls for dialogue and improved relations with police.
Organizers of the Edinburg protests, Zak Borja and Delores Smith, both students at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, likewise called for police reform. Smith told Neta, a local nonprofit news organization, that she supports the “abolition and reform” of the police.
Calls for police reform, although intended to sound militant with the occasional use of the word “abolish,” now reduced to “defund” or "disband" the police, distract from the prosecution and conviction of George Floyd’s murderers. Opportunistic, “progressive” politicians, hoping to dethrone "establishment Democrats" in electoral primaries, have adopted calls to "defund the police."
Thus, popular outrage and indignation at police violence is being funneled by reformist forces to demand new laws that would ban certain policing tactics, like choke-holds, and create an army of social workers to respond to police calls, instead of armed officers. As has been seen in recent days, bans on choke-holds do not prevent police from using them and anti-bias police trainings (as described by an anti bias police trainer who was recently shot in the groin at a protest) "clearly don't work."
That's because the function of police departments is to defend private property, as the first police departments arose in the 1830s, when capitalism was becoming the dominant economic model worldwide. In the north, police forces were organized to defend private capital. In the south, slave patrols were organized by plantation bosses for obvious reasons. The inherent function of police is to protect the capitalist class, their families, their property and political power, using lethal force to quell mass uprisings of the sort we are witnessing today.
Although reformist voices couch demands to reform the police as “practical” measures that can be taken "right now," and while Seattle anarchists attempt to establish an “autonomous zone" without police forces, such demands are utopian because they neglect the class nature of the police apparatus, which is to repress the working people and other oppressed communities. As long as the capitalist class maintains its grasp on power, police will serve their interests, despite any “reforms” the rulers may concede for opportunistic political reasons.
Police injure and kill unarmed, innocent people because they know they will get away with it. The vast majority of police brutality cases are never brought to court, nor do they bring convictions of killer cops. Police officers kill with impunity. Despite Minnesota Attorney General, (D) Keith Ellison's, denial that popular pressure affected the decision to prosecute Derick Chauvin and the others, protests did win the indictments of George Floyd’s murderers, and the firings and convictions of others.
We must see to it that the killer cops who took George Floyd's life are convicted. Such a victory would send a warning to police that they can no longer commit violence against us with impunity and would strengthen our movement's confidence, which will be needed to build a mass movement of millions that uproots capitalist exploitation, and its inherent police violence, once and for all.
George Floyd's murderers' next hearing is Monday, June 29.
In the Rio Grande Valley, community member and trans activist, Aspen Basaldua, as well as this reporter, planned to hold a protest demanding the conviction of George Floyd's murderers and all killer cops Monday afternoon, outside Edinburg City Hall. Because of increased pressure by Hidalgo County, restricting on public gatherings, in the name of combating the coronavirus, the event was postponed for a date to be announced.
Studies have shown recent protests against police brutality are not to blame for recent spikes in coronavirus cases. Capitalist exploitation and greed—which allowed restaurants and bars to serve guests without masking requirements, and without protections for employees, nor adequate healthcare for working people—led to the recent spikes.
At the same time, liberals and so-called radicals have adopted a culture of reaction, continuing calls for lock-downs and for police to arrest people violating lock-down orders, despite their earlier calls to disband the police—a testament to the demand's emptiness. Despite their "abolitionist demands" the Left and the police are united as one. A difficult battle for political speech and rights is up ahead.