El Pasoans marched to call for an end to police violence against African-Americans on Sunday. (Michaela Román/El Paso Matters)

A crowd of more than 1,000 marched from Memorial Park to the El Paso police headquarters on Sunday in a mostly peaceful but sometimes tense protest of the deaths of George Floyd and other African-Americans while in police custody.

Police fired tear gas to disperse a small group of protesters who remained in Memorial Park Sunday night. Some protesters threw water bottles at police, and some officers shoved protesters with their shields. Police reported that an officer was injured at the park, but the extent of his injuries wasn’t clear.

But there was no widespread violence or significant vandalism, unlike protests in other U.S. cities in recent days.

The protest, organized largely over social media, began at 6 p.m. at Memorial Park with the audience kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. That was the length of time that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, ending his life. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. 

“We are here demanding that our voices be heard, that our faces we seen, that our lives be valued, that we not be dehumanized by a system that doesn’t see us,” said Kyra Lewis, the vice president of the Black Student Union at the University of Texas at El Paso, told the crowd gathering in the park. 

Kamila Chantz, a 2020 graduate of Pebble Hills High School, urges the crowd gathered at Memorial Park for a protest against police brutality to also fight against racism in their everyday lives. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Young adults made up the bulk of the crowd. Speakers urged the group to remain peaceful and to push for change.

“We’re standing here today looking at the sea of people of different colors and different ethnicities. And we’re so proud that you all came to be here,” said Sade Talabi, president of UTEP’s Black Student Union.

Some of the speakers spoke in deeply personal tones.

“Why is it that I have to sit in class and hear all these little boys say the n-word over and over again?” said one teenage African-American girl, who declined to give her name.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter flew over the protest and subsequent march. The federal agency has deployed personnel and equipment across the country to assist local law enforcement during protests and civil unrest, the agency said.

March to police headquarters

Escorted by police motorcycles, the crowd walked about half a mile from Memorial Park to the El Paso Police Department headquarters at 911 N. Raynor. The crowd chanted “No justice, no peace;” “Say his name, George Floyd;” “Black lives matter” and other slogans during the march.

Protesters lie prone for more than eight minutes during a demonstration against police brutality on Sunday. Last week in Minnesota, George Floyd was on the ground for more than eight minutes as a police officer knelt on his neck. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The chanting continued at the police headquarters, where officers stood guard at the entrance to the building. The crowd chanted at police at times, but there were no conflicts during the large gathering.

The marchers then headed back to Memorial Park, again chanting along the way.

A woman wearing a red “Make American Great Again” hat screamed at some of the protesters, but she was largely ignored. However, as the march neared the park, someone snatched her hat from her head and later burned it.

But many marchers repeatedly urged others to maintain calm, and the march remained largely peaceful.

Tensions mount as police display force

While many of the marchers stayed in the park after returning, several groups walked through the park and out to Copia Street, with some heading back toward police headquarters. A police tactical vehicle and dozens of officers in tactical gear blocked off Copia to prevent others from going to the headquarters.

A group of marchers back down Copia Street to return to police headquarters during Sunday’s protest. That led police to close off Copia, resulting in confrontations with other protesters. (Michaela Román/El Paso Matters)

The presence of the tactical vehicle and officers angered some of the marchers. A group of about 20 surrounded the vehicle and at one point someone rushed forward and spray painted the letter “F” on the van before running off.

Several people in the group were yelling at two officers over the mistreatment of African-Americans.

YouTube video
Video by Robert Moore

The officers defused the situation when they agreed to a request to take a knee with the protesters. A video of the encounter was viewed more than 200,000 times on Twitter as of Monday morning.

YouTube video
Video by Robert Moore

That group walked back toward the park after the officers knelt, but another group came out of the park and new confrontations ensued.

Eventually, officers in helmets carrying shields began marching up Copia in an effort to push the protesters back into Memorial Park. Some protesters threw plastic water bottles at the officers. One officer used his shield to drive a marcher into a street sign post.

Police officers in tactical gear pushed marchers back to Memorial Park on Sunday. (Michaela Román/El Paso Matters)

At one point, El Paso police tweeted, “Officers providing safe route are now being assaulted at different locations.” However, they later sent another tweet saying, “Areas were cleared. Some in crowd surrounded officer and threw bottles at officer on motor.”

Once the officers pushed the marchers back into the park, most of the remaining protesters left. 

A group of about 40 marchers remained in the park despite repeated police orders to disperse. Officers then fired tear gas and nonlethal rounds, causing the last of the protesters to leave. Some marchers were wounded by police projectiles, according to Twitter posts.

Witnesses said police slammed people into walls and swung batons.

YouTube video
Video by Neal Rosendorf

Police haven’t yet said if anyone was arrested during the protest.

Cover photo: El Pasoans marched to call for an end to police violence against African-Americans on Sunday. (Michaela Román/El Paso Matters)

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.