On Sunday, a group organized by Houston activist Quanell X marched down West Gray and through River Oaks to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin. Though the verdict happened in Florida, protests were organized across the country. At the corner of West Gray and Shepherd, a counter protest set up along the opposite side of the street from the march route.
While protestors on both sides shouted at one another and a few of each met face to face, there was no violence, thanks in part to a heavy police presence. But, to be honest, what percentage of us actually believed riots and fighting were going to break out?
A number of the shops in the River Oaks Shopping Center closed early and one reportedly emptied the entire contents of its store over fears of looting. I understand closing early. My guess is that hundreds of people marching and watching along with the snarled traffic that scene creates would not be conducive to shopping. But, clearing your whole store because you think people will loot it? What is this, Oakland?
I ask the questions partly in jest and partly in all seriousness. Houston has certainly had its share of violent clashes over the years, but name one legitimate riot in recent history. And even if you can come up with one that has the earmarks of a riot, when was the last time anyone looted anything in Houston en masse?
My point is that while I respect people's right to do what they think is necessary to protect their property, I have to wonder if they forgot they live in Houston.
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We don't loot and riot. When our teams win big, we don't overturn cars and break store windows. Our protests don't routinely (if ever) break out into mayhem and destruction. When Bill Murray tried to convince Harold Ramis to go into Czechoslovakia to retrieve their unit in the movie Stripes, he reasoned, "It's Czechoslavakia. We're not going to Moscow. It's Czechoslavakia. It's like going into Wisconsin." When I read about the concerns of people, that was the first thing. It's Houston!
I respect the rights of people to demonstrate for whatever cause or issue they believe in. That is at the very heart of American political debate. It's healthy. And I do realize that, at times, those kinds of demonstrations can lead to real problems for police, protestors and bystanders. But, had a real riot broken out in River Oaks on Sunday complete with looting and chaos, mark me down as one who would have been completely and utterly shocked.
Not that I think the police display was incongruous with the event, however. No question that kind of presence helps to keep things in check. But even if there had been no mounted patrol and jeers from both sides reached a fever pitch, I just have a hard time imagining a riot. Maybe I'm wrong. But, I've lived here for over 40 years and I've never seen anything close to what some predicted might happen Sunday afternoon.
Thankfully, we didn't see it yesterday either.