Protesters peacefully gathered in the 1200 block of North Mechanic Monday evening calling for awareness and understanding, drawn together by Houstonian George Floyd’s death, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer May 25.
El Campo joined a growing number of cities in Texas and throughout the country that has seen its citizens share their voice in the hopes of raising awareness.
For two-and-a-half hours, protesters lined the parking lot next to HWY 71, holding signs, raising their fists in the air and chanting slogans as traffic passed by.
“No justice. No peace,” the group shouted, holding signs saying “black lives matter” and “I can’t breath,” a reference to Floyd’s asphyxiation death.
“We told police we will not let it get out of hand. We are Christian folk,” said Nadine Steele of El Campo, one of three event organizers.
Passing vehicles offered support with horn honks while others gunned engines and roared away from the group standing at the side of the soon-to-be-closing Palais Royal. In the opposite parking lot, people parked, took pictures and watched the crowd from afar.
Less than a dozen people, mainly women and small children, started the protest, but the gathering grew to more than 50 people before they ultimately dispersed at 8:30 p.m.
“We decided we should be heard in the community. To express our rights. Free speech. We wanted the community to know the system has to get better,” said Janerica Cunningham of El Campo.
The concerns, she said, weren’t with local law enforcers. Instead, “the system has to get better overall.”
El Campo Police Chief Terry Stanphill met with the group as the event got under way while multiple officers gathered in the parking lot. Both the Wharton County Sheriff’s Office and El Campo Police Department had a presence but remained away from the protesters.
The goal, Stanphill said, was to ensure the protesters were able to exercise their rights safely and peacefully.
“I met with (the protest group) and everything was good ... This is a good, safe spot for them to be seen and get their message across,” he said.
To ensure general public safety, the police department stepped up patrols throughout the city Monday night.
The protest remained civil throughout the evening, despite rumors of potential looting concerns. During the protest, an unknown man, with unknown intentions, walked into the crowd holding a “no lives matter” sign but left after a brief encounter with protesters.
The rally ended with a prayer by those who had gathered to show support.
Before leaving, the protesters cleaned the space they had occupied. ECPD encountered no problems Monday night following the protest that could be attributed to the gathering.
Additional protests were planned, but no times were set.
The effort, Toretta Cunningham of El Campo said, was important.
“I felt enough was enough. We need to be treated equal,” adding she had experienced unfair treatment, including a vehicle search.
Cunningham called the demonstration a success. After posting about the protest on social media, she hoped at least 10 people would show up. Protest attendance, however, slowly built until dozens were gathered by the end of the night.
“I just wanted the community to know there are people that look like me that are worried about their voices,” Cunningham said.