COVERING A YEAR LATER: HOW LOCAL COMMUNITIES CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR BLACK LIVES AFTER GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER
TDR Regular Contributor / September 20, 2021
LaTonya Floyd wants justice. She wants justice for her brother, George Floyd, and for every other person who has, like her, lost the people they love in an epidemic of violence.
“We have so many people who have lost loved ones because of police brutality, and we’re going to stand with them like they’ve stood with us,” LaTonya said.
Like in Avon Park and Fayetteville, Floyd’s family in Houston, Texas, is not done with their activism. LaTonya still lives in Houston, where she and George grew up hanging out with his friends and playing football at Jack Yates High School.
Now, the community has come together through marches and vigils.
“We’re not going to stop protesting,” LaTonya said. “We have three more officers to take down.”
After Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter after kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, Black Lives Matter in Houston organized a vigil to bring the community together and remind them that there is still work to be done.
Community coming together
Carl Davis, another alum of Jack Yates High School and the chairman of the Houston Society for Change, has been a firsthand witness to the power of bringing the community together.
This past February, Black History Month, he joined with several organizations to create and unveil a two-block long Black Lives Matter mural painted on the streets in front of the high school.
“We all collaborated with Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and we all got together to paint a Black Lives Matter mural,” said Davis. “On the front is the school mascot, and on the other side, George Floyd’s jersey. We want the kids to understand every day they go into the school that their lives matter.”
When Davis says we, he means people from organizations 88 C.H.U.M.P. and Youth and Society for Change. The first organization is named for Floyd’s high school jersey number, which was 88, and was founded by his friends.
Another project they have taken on in recent years includes renovating the high school football field. They kicked off the project on May 28 with money from NFL, among others. The field has been renamed in honor of George Floyd.
One of the things Davis loves most about his work is working with the kids.
“They are asking questions,” he said. “They’re concerned about the environment. There’s been so much violence in the inner city. There’s mistrust of law enforcement. Each day, those kids go in that school, and they see that message we’ve put on the street. We’re instilling in them that their lives are just as important as someone of another race.”
Jack Yates High School currently ranks as having some of the lowest test scores in the state, which is not surprising. Schools with a majority of Black and brown students are consistently underfunded.
This is why Davis stresses the importance of education for young people. He and 88 C.H.U.M.P. have worked so hard to provide opportunities for young people, show them how to get internships, and offer trade opportunities.
“Not every kid is going to be college-bound, but we want them to be able to sustain themselves in their industries,” he said. “We want to empower our kids and let them know they can do anything they can imagine.”
Floyd’s former classmate and friend, Herbert Mouton, is the operations manager at 88 C.H.U.M.P. In addition to building stronger relations between police officers and the community, he says the organization is also working to educate people about the importance of voting, especially in local elections. and filling out the census, which he says is important because that is largely how the community gets funded.
“One of our biggest movements was voter registrations in Houston,” he said. At one, “we registered maybe 98 people, almost 100 people, from young to old. We had people out there, first-time voters. That was very impressive.”
His biggest goal in the community is to educate people.
“We’re keeping his name alive and pushing forward to better our community,” he said, referring to Floyd. “We’re starting in our community first. Once we set a foundation there, other communities will follow along or want to partner up. It’s one community at a time.”
Bodily autonomy and Black Lives Matter
As much as the community has rebuilt since last summer, there is a ways to go. Texas recently passed a bill into law that banned abortions after six weeks. The Biden Administration has sued the state of Texas over this law.
Brandon Mack says the right to bodily autonomy is a Black Lives Matter issue. Mack is an organizer at Black Lives Matter in Houston, the same organization that held a vigil after the Chauvin trial.
Abortions are especially difficult to access for Black and brown women, and Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Black women are also more likely to die while giving birth.
The Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter, in Mack’s words, aims “to address is the devaluation of Black lives.” They have worked on electoral justice projects, Black voters matter and have done work around homelessness in the community.
Now, they are supporting organizations that do work around abortions and reproductive health.
“What happened in Texas was a complete disregard to the rule of law, the constitution, and Roe v. Wade,” he said. “It was the grossest show of legal maneuvering to put that into place. The fact that the supreme court refuses to see that shows how white supremacy operates in this country and the depths to which people will go to maintain that supremacy.”
Organizers have seen a definite improvement in the past year. Mack says that the new police chief, who is from Houston, is willing to work with activists to create a helpful presence in the community rather than one that disregards the community’s needs.
Still, there are a ways to go. Last year, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s task force to look at policing in the community, which had 45 community remembers, came out with 104 recommendations, which rendered almost all of them ineffective, as no one knew where to start.
Of the initiative, Mack said, “task forces and commissions are the new versions of thoughts and prayers.” Mayor Turner’s office did not respond for comment in time for publication.
Mack also doesn’t think the police haven’t tried to engage with the community in a productive way. He says the police aren’t trying to engage the community as a “two way street,” but rather tell the community what to do. They rarely listen to what the community needs from them.
COVID-19 and the Delta variant have also made organizing difficult. Houston, like many cities, is coping with a shortage of hospital beds. Given that Black communities are most impacted by the virus, this is another Black Lives Matter issue, and organizers do not want to contribute to rising COVID numbers.
At the same time, Mack stresses the importance of finding ways to bring the community together.
“There have been several memorials and there are several murals that bare George Floyd’s likeness,” Mack said. “Those things have helped the community heal.”