It was a largely black crowd with at least a third of the audience made up of white people and a few anarchists sprinkled in. They were there to share ideas, sign some petitions, and to vent about injustice in the Mike Brown and Eric Garner deaths.
Inside the packed El Dorado Ballroom in the Third Ward, the shirt on a lonely hipster said it best: Murder Beats Not People.
A group called the Houston Justice Coalition
, made up largely of students from nearby Texas Southern University, organized the outing.** They shared their platform, which calls for Houston to implement police body cameras (something already working its way through city council) and for raising awareness about grand juries.
"I've served four times, twice as a foreman," Third Ward Councilman Dwight Boykins said. It's a hard sell, but everyone was encouraged to help diversify grand juries, which are commonly racially and economically lopsided and are easily swayed by prosecutors. "You have to commit not only to the $28 per day two times a week, but three months out of the year. And some people don't like to do that," Boykins said.
The event was advertised on social media as an organizing call for millennials, the target audience for all the #CrimingWhileWhite and #AliveWhileBlack responses on Twitter. It's an age group that's historically been the foundation of rights movements. This might all be a test to see if today's young activists can keep the energy going.
As large protests took place in Chicago, New York and Boston last night, the residents in Houston's Third Ward were getting a grand jury workshop and tips about sticking to your guns against other jurors.
"Black males are being murdered and nothing is being done about it," Anthony Collier, a 21-year-old student and co-organizer, said. "In America, no one values black life; even a lot of black people don't value black life. But that stems from what we were taught when black people were brought here for slaves."
Ideas and theories were swirling around about why cops nationwide are racking up a body count in dead men of color. And people aligned with different groups, from the Revolution Communist Party (a few, mainly middle-aged white men and women with Revcom.US signs) to members from the local chapter of the National Black United Front, all took turns to share their views.
Malik Muhammed, a Third Ward resident and a member of the NBUF, said global white supremacy was behind police brutality. "No amount of reforms are going to get us out of it." He also said that racism was as prevalent as ever. Nearly everyone had an #AliveWhileBlack story, an anecdote about the time they were stopped and harassed by a cop.
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Jessica Bryant, a 26-year-old college student, said she was surprised the ballroom was so packed. She arrived back home recently from college in Beaumont, ready to take action. But she agreed that her generation, the millennials, needed to stake a bigger claim.
"We like to get on social media and talk and not do anything about it. The friend that invited me tonight on Instagram isn't even here."
TSU students will hold a march and rally across their campus this afternoon at 4 p.m. One of the student groups is expected to participate in a die-in. And just a few miles away, and a couple of hours later, people are being urged to "shut shit down for Mike Brown, Eric Garner" at Mayor Annise Parker's City Hall tree lighting. Expect this to be a "Hands Up, Don't Shoot," "I can't breath" chanting weekend.
Correction, December 12, 2014 at 2 p.m.: Durrell Douglas, an organizer with the Houston Justice Coalition, tells us that the group is not a group made up of mostly Third Ward residents, as the original headline to this post implied. In addition, the group is not primarily comprised of TSU students; Douglas said that only one or two members of the group are TSU students, and added, "Yes, it's a young thing, and mostly people 40 and under, but it's not just students." The Houston Press regrets the error.