Mayor Sylvester Turner did not sleep on Thursday night.
Turner took the podium at a press conference Friday, following the deadly shooting in Dallas that killed five police officers and injured seven more at an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. He said he only tossed and turned last night, thinking about how these types of press conferences — the ones where the city comes together to address violence and tragedy — are, though essential, becoming tiresome.
“Not too long ago, we were standing here, and we were standing with Orlando for those who were killed there,” Turner said. “Recently, of course, with the shootings by individual police officers in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, that has created a great deal of emotions throughout the country. And then last night...has created even more additional pain and hurt and anger, and families that literally have been destroyed for a lifetime. And so the question now comes: Where are we as a society, and where do we go from here?”
The room was solemn. Turner was surrounded by City Council members and several police officers, all of them wearing a black stripe across their badges in honor of the Dallas officers slain while protecting protestors, who were demanding an end to police killing young black men who simply reach for their wallets in their waistline pockets. The suspect who disrupted the protest and the nation with gunfire reportedly said he wanted to murder white police officers before Dallas police killed him by remotely detonating a bomb.
Turner acknowledged the tension: between law enforcement and the black community, between people in power and those without. He asked that people remember never to use the actions of one individual bad apple — black or white, wearing a badge or not — to make sweeping, hurtful generalizations about entire groups of people.
Along with Houston Police Department Acting Chief Martha Montalvo, he urged the community to do away with the “us-versus-them” mentality, and though he never expressly acknowledged the Black Lives Matter movement, he asked to “lower the rhetoric” and “be mindful of what we're sending out on social media.” Overall, he asked simply for unity between police and the communities they serve — while still acknowledging, lest he appear naive, he said, that mistrust between the two is a problem that so obviously must be amended.
“As we go forward, it's important for us to pull together when we are faced with difficult times, when there is a great deal of pain and hurt and anger,” the mayor said. “You can't ignore it. You can't treat it as if it doesn't exist, or that if we just go to sleep tonight and wake up, it will be gone. It's not going to go away on its own, and as a city, we must collectively address it.”
Montalvo said that, in the wake of the shooting, she is allowing backup for any officer who does not want to ride alone. Working with the Dallas police chief, she also plans to send psychologists north for the officers who need support in that city.
Montalvo said that, at Friday evening's Black Lives Matter rally in Houston — in which protestors will honor the lives of the two black men killed by police this week during a traffic stop and while selling CDs outside a convenience store — her officers will continue to respect the right to peaceful protest.
The Houston Press asked Montalvo and Turner about the city's relationship with the movement, and what kind of dialogue the two have engaged in. Turner said he wants to protect people's right to assemble and protest while ensuring the safety of officers.
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“Just like we are out there protecting people's rights to engage in their freedom of speech, we want to make sure that our police officers are safe, too,” Turner said. “I want the protestors to go home to their families. I want the police officers to go home to theirs.”
Earlier that day, more than a dozen clergy members came to the Houston Police Department to pray and provide support. Led by Bishop James Dixon, the clergy denounced the violence and enormity of last night's horrific scene as well as the tragic events that plagued the nation this week, and they called on the community to unite behind law enforcement as the nation, and Houston, puts the pieces back together.
Dixon subtly acknowledged the two black men who were killed by police in Louisiana and Minnesota this week, but said, “Many more of us have been kept alive by law enforcement. Thank you for keeping us alive.”
The clergy closed the vigil by raising their hands over the men and women in blue and, at once, praying that they too be protected while risking their lives to protect others.