Downtown protesters have divergent stances on police, remain peaceful
Hundreds of protesters marched through Downtown El Paso Wednesday evening in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, denouncing police brutality and calling for the defunding of the El Paso Police Department.
A second smaller demonstration, located in Cleveland Square, was organized to show support for El Paso police officers.
Many of the Black Lives Matter protesters were young El Pasoans, in their teens and early 20s. Demonstrators like Marianne Ortíz expressed pride to be part of the nationwide movement, and emphasized how important it is for El Pasoans to participate in the national dialogue about racial justice.
A stated aim of the march was defunding the El Paso Police Department. The protest press release (with no stated organizer) highlighted, “El Paso’s shameful policing budget is nine times larger than the public health budget and 416 larger than homelessness prevention.” Protesters like Khalil Stan discussed why they believe defunding the El Paso Police Department is important.
Protesters marched rapidly through the streets of Downtown El Paso, covering significant ground in a short amount of time. One protester said this was intentional, modeled after tactics used by Hong Kong protesters to avoid brushes with law enforcement. “Be shapeless, formless, like water”; this phrase, originally used by Bruce Lee, has inspired protesters as they seek to elude police and avoid being kettled.
A smaller stationary demonstration took place in Cleveland Square of El Pasoans voicing their support of police. The protesters in this group tended to be older, and included several political candidates, such as Bethany Hatch, the Republican nominee for El Paso’s state Senate seat.
Protesters like Blanche Acuña expressed consternation with the rallying call “Black Lives Matter,” saying that “all lives matter.” The use of the phrase “all lives matter” has been controversial, and often has been used to signify disagreement with the broader Black Lives Matter movement.
Pro-police demonstrators like Rhonda Davidson said that the Black Lives Matter movement is unnecessarily creating havoc, and that most cops are good cops. Both the pro-police demonstration and the Black Lives Matter march were peaceful, with minimal incident. Police presence was lower than at the May 31 Memorial Park protest, and officers were not wearing riot gear.
Many Black Lives Matter protesters implemented practices of mutual aid as a way to protect and unify the group. Protesters handed out water bottles, granola bars, and walked around with garbage bags picking up trash left by other protesters.
Protesters used bicycles to guide the march and protect marchers from traffic at intersections. Tomás Tinajero didn’t plan to use his bicycle in this way, but once he saw it happening, decided to help. Others arrived planning to be a support to fellow protesters.
Caesar Concha brought hand sanitizer, masks, and water, and regularly passed them out as a way to uphold safety and health. Pleasant scents wafted through the air during the march because protesters like Aaron Torres and his friends brought sage and regularly burned it, aiming to uplift fellow protesters with fragrance.
Interdenominational religious leaders donning orange vests served as Faith Peace Keepers at the protest, and sought to diffuse tension between law enforcement and protesters, and between competing protest groups.
Dylan Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute, said he was there to ensure the gathering remained a peaceful assembly and to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Rabbi Benjamin Zeidman of Temple Mount Sinai said that he, along with fellow clergy, had come out in order to advocate for the right to peaceful protest.
The Black Lives Matter march stopped in San Jacinto Plaza around 7:45 p.m. Speakers such as Katie Titan used a megaphone to denounce police brutality and defend their first amendment right to peacefully protest. Observers took the knee en masse. After a sojourn in the plaza, the march continued for several more hours through downtown and into the Sunset Heights residential area, before eventually returning to Cleveland Square.
A smaller group remained at Cleveland Square until 10:30 p.m., with intermittent speakers and dancing. The protest was concluded with nine minutes of silence while protesters sat and kneeled on the grass. A speaker suggested that the nine minutes be used contemplating what George Floyd went through, and considering how each protester could best use their abilities to counteract racism in society in the future.
Corrie Boudreaux contributed to this story.
Cover photo: Protesters fill San Jacinto Plaza on Wednesday, June 10 as they demonstrate against police brutality and racism in the United States. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)