African-Americans in 2019 know that when in the process of going about perfectly normal everyday activities it’s a good idea to keep a camera phone ready in case random white people accuse them of doing something illegal or wrong. That happened to Kelyn Alyssa as she was taking birthday photos of her one-year-old daughter on the esplanade of North Boulevard in Broadacres.
According to a now-viral Facebook post and video, Alyssa had arranged the photoshoot complete with props and a professional photographer on February 16. The area is popular for wedding and other picture moments, much to the consternation of the Broadacres Homeowners Association who tried to ban people from using the site. The City of Houston affirmed the esplanades as public property for anyone’s use in 2017.
One person who apparently did not get the memo was Astros owner Jim Crane’s ex-wife, socialite Franci Neely. Neely appears in the video barefoot and with an unleashed dog yelling at Alyssa’s family. Alyssa claims in her post that Neely let her dog down and it approached her daughter, at which point Alyssa began asking Neely to restrain the animal.
From there a confrontation broke out, which appears on the video. At one point Neely even appears to strike Alyssa’s husband, who was holding the phone. Later, she dismantles the balloons and props for the pictures. In the post, Alyssa mentions that Neely had passed several other groups taking pictures to harass her. The family later talked to police, who confirmed that they were breaking no laws. A police report was filed for the incident, but no charges were pressed. The video is below.
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After Neely was identified in the video, she issued a statement to KTRK.
I am very sorry that I got upset on late Saturday afternoon. Putting it in context, however: I saw three commercial photography shoots in one block at the same time, something that happens frequently. When I explained the situation to the first and third groups, they were respectful. The couple whose photo shoot obstructed the walkway was not. It's hard to remain composed when confronted by shouted threats of lawsuits and false, inflammatory accusations.
According to Brittany Hillen at Digital Photography Review, the North Boulevard has over 50 photoshoots a week, and in the past some visitors have damaged the areas such as when a Jeep was driven up onto the esplanade. Photographers are prohibited from blocking the sidewalks by city ordinance, but people are encouraged to dial 311 to report such incidences rather than directly confronting perpetrators.
Regardless, it’s rarely a good look to ruin a toddler’s photoshoot even if it annoys you that strangers are on the grass the City of Houston owns. Particularly when you’re a wealthy white person confronting a black family going about their legal business.