Two weeks to the day after Alva Braziel was shot to death by police, the Houston man was laid to rest. But many Houstonians still have questions about what happened the night that Braziel died – and on Saturday, hours after Braziel’s funeral, they made it clear that they wanted answers.
Black Lives Matter: Houston organized a protest at the Cullen Boulevard gas station near where Braziel was killed by police officers on July 9. Braziel’s death, which is among many recent high-profile instances of police violence against black men, has already sparked protests in Houston. This demonstration was held in and for Braziel’s local community, according to the Facebook page for the event.
The protest, “Just Us For Alva Braziel,” started at 4 p.m. Attendees initially gathered for speeches by local leaders, including Ashton P. Woods of Black Lives Matter: Houston, Krystal Muhammad of the New Black Panther Party National, and Edward Buford, the senior pastor at Houston’s SonRise Community Church.
“The police do not have the right to be judge, jury, prosecutor, persecutor and executor all in one swoop,” Muhammad told dozens of protestors, who huddled together in a tight circle underneath the gas station awning to escape the rain. Muhammad only needed to raise her voice for everyone to hear. “This is criminal. These are human rights violations.”
On Thursday, Mayor Sylvester Turner released videos of Braziel’s shooting – but police officers only turned their body cameras on after they shot Braziel, as the Houston Press has reported. Many speakers and attendees at the protest brought up these videos and how the footage failed to answer their questions about the officers’ interactions with Braziel prior to the shooting.
Following the speeches and the end of the rain, protesters crossed the street to stand near a makeshift memorial that had been set up for Braziel on a road median, complete with candles, plastic flowers and stuffed animals. Friends and family members, including Braziel’s son, Andre Merchant – who wore a shirt emblazoned with an image of Braziel wearing angel wings – spoke about the impact that the loss of “Groucho,” as Braziel was known, will have on the community. They talked of the need for justice now, of the pain that Braziel’s family members must feel knowing that he will never come home.
“We just want to know why. Why the police had to shoot him down like that,” Merchant said. “That’s all we want to know, is why. That’s it.”
Braziel’s family, Muhammad told the crowd, had buried Braziel that day and many relatives were waiting just a block away. “We want to march around the corner, and just tell them we love them,” Muhammad said. So the protestors marched around the block, shouting slogans such as “No justice!” “No peace!” in a call-and-response. The gathered mourners watched the march as protesters passed, but most didn’t seem to react. Still, protestor Brandon Mack said he thought that the demonstration was effective, honoring Braziel’s life, family and friends.
“It is giving the community a voice and it is giving Alva ‘Groucho’ Braziel a voice and an actual human portrayal of who he was, instead of the negative portrayal that he has been getting,” Mack said. “It should not matter what he had in his system. It should not matter what he had in his hand. He was a human being and should have been treated as such.”
The only sign of potential trouble came during a “die-in” after the march, when several people lay down in the street by Braziel’s memorial. (There wasn’t much traffic to be blocked.) Protestors noticed a huddle of police officers standing close by, watching. After protestors approached the officers, shouting some of the same slogans that they had marched to – “No hands up!” “Fists up!” – some of the officers returned to their cars. The protestors then returned to the memorial. Mack said he saw that the officers carried nightsticks, which he called “disheartening and disrespectful.”
“People are just asserting their right to protest,” he said.
When asked what the next steps will be, Black Lives Matter: Houston organizer Woods said he will work with Braziel’s family to make sure that Braziel’s case moves forward and to let them know that they have the community’s support.
“And on the larger scale, we’re making sure we’re lobbying City Hall to put executive orders in place to make sure that HPD is doing what they need to do to change their policies,” Woods said. “And also to make sure that we can get the community advisory board with teeth. Not the one that’s currently there – one with teeth, one that has subpoena power, that can indict, that can do all the things that a grand jury can’t do.”
Reform may be a long time coming. Harris County prosecutors haven't secured an indictment against a police officer involved in a shooting in more than a decade.