HOUSTON—They came on foot and even on horseback. They clambered up trees to get a better view. They chanted “Say his name: George Floyd.”
On Tuesday, an estimated 60,000 people turned out in the hometown of the man killed by police in Minneapolis last week to celebrate the 46-year-old’s life. Eighteen of his family members stood on the steps to City Hall and marveled at the movement sprawling before them.
“Never, never man, would I have thought we’d have this many people, man, for my brother,” Terrence Floyd, a sibling, told the crowd. “I love y'all, man.” He pleaded with protesters around the country—who have shown up in countless cities for eight nights—to demonstrate in peace and step in to prevent any violence or looting they may see.
“You’re shaming all our names, not just his name,” he said, referring to agitators and rioters. “It's bigger than my brother. We got kids growing up. We tryin’ to break the cycle right now. We got this.”
“Floyd required everybody to do one thing before he took his last breath,” another relative told the crowd. “And I think a lot of people missed it [and] are misguide.... he asked that the people just get up. Look around you. Everybody got up. Pay close attention to the smaller things. They're expecting you to behave unbecomingly. they're expecting you to carry yourself like a fool.”
And in fact, in keeping with the trend in Houston in recent days, the rally was a peaceful one for several hours—even if tensions heated up in the evening.
Among those at the rally in downtown Houston, organized by rappers Bun B and Trae tha Truth, was a distinctive group of protesters: about two-dozen African-American men and women on horseback. Belonging to clubs with names like the 5th Ward Non-Stop Riderz and the Alive & Free Riderz, these trail riding groups are a time-honored tradition in many Houston African-American neighborhoods.
“We came from all over the city—north, west, everywhere,” said one rider, who declined to identify himself.
Although the event wasn’t sponsored by the city, local officials including Mayor Sylvester Turner and police chief Art Acevedo joined the rally and subsequent march to City Hall, giving it a quasi-official imprimatur.
Before the march started, Bun asked the crowd to take a knee, put their right fist in the air, and hold 30 seconds of silence. Among those kneeling: Acevedo, who has been vocal in support of peaceful marchers.
Bun B asked the crowd on behalf of Floyd’s family to keep the march peaceful. “If you see anyone instigating something, call them out,” he said. “The world is looking at Houston, Texas today. Let’s give them something to see.”
Trae tha Truth also requested a peaceful protest but made his frustration clear. “Today we gonna make a motherfucking statement, period,” he told the crowd. “We ain’t backing down from shit. We have to tear up this system from the inside out. It’s not just about the bad cops, it’s about the people above those cops.”
And he referenced the president. “Donald Trump said if they loot we shoot. Well, we ain’t havin that shit in Houston.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents the Third Ward neighborhood where Floyd grew up, briefly addressed the crowd, promising to “show the nation what George Floyd was all about.”
Rallygoers chanted George Floyd’s name, “No Justice, No Peace,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and other refrains familiar from nationwide protests.
In front of the stage, Jerry Higgenbotham, a middle-aged African-American man, stood next to his two sons, wearing a black bandanna printed with the American flag. “My oldest son just graduated from high school and is about to start college,” Higgenbotham said. “I should be talking to him about that, but instead I have to teach him how to stay alive when you have black skin.”
Protesters marched past the boarded-up storefront of hotels Aloft and Le Meridien. Volunteers along the route handed out free snacks and bottles of water. The march stretched at least ten city blocks, nearly from one side of downtown to the other. It was the largest rally many in the crowd had ever seen.
People watched the marchers pass by from parking garages, hotel rooftop pools, and the balconies of downtown condos. Many families and children could be seen in the crowd, which was entirely peaceful. One young African-American boy held a sign that said, “I Need My Dad.”
Some marchers cursed and gave the middle finger to police officers along the route. Others exchanged polite greetings. Most seemed to ignore the cops. One police officer gave thumbs up to people. “Hey, I like your shirt” he said occasionally. One woman walked by the line of cops silently, holding up a cardboard sign with the acronym “ACAB” written on it. The cops ignored her.
At City Hall, with police and news helicopters circling overhead, several speakers denounced police brutality from the steps. People climbed up the trees lining the park to get a better view.
Mayor Sylvester Turner addressed the crowd, leading call-and-response chants of “Say his name” and “George Floyd.”
He urged “George’s city” to remain peaceful because “that’s who we are.”
However, as the official protest drew to a close, there were hints of the unrest that has consumed the country in recent days. Riot police and mounted cops began pushing peaceful marchers down a street, and a bullhorn announced that it was “no longer peaceful protest” and anyone who didn’t disperse would be arrested.
In fact, the scene remained a relatively sedate one. At Sunny's bar on Capitol Street, people drank beer and watched protesters march by. Residents hung out car doors, blaring music and smoking blunts.
As for the mounted cops, in the early evening, dozens of people blocked the street close to Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros, and refused to budge despite police orders. But over the course of the night, police seemed to succeed in driving most groups out of the area.
Still, every time the city seemed poised for a fit of violence, things calmed down again. Shortly after 9 p.m., someone tried to light a trash can on fire about four blocks from the Toyota Center, where the Houston Rockets played until the pandemic shut down pro sports. A civilian seized the lighter fluid from him before he could do so.
“Nobody was hurt,” Kianna Moore, a 19-year-old African-American student who participated in the march, told The Daily Beast earlier Tuesday. “It was peaceful. We asked some of the officers to come down and kneel with us. One did, but the rest just stood there and laughed.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the age of George Floyd, the man killed by Minneapolis police. We regret the error.