HOUSTON -- Houston’s police chief encouraged people to stay away from the areas of River Oaks, traditionally the city’s wealthiest neighborhood, where demonstrators plan to stage Sunday afternoon protests over the Trayvon Martin shooting case.
Demonstrators speaking out against the verdict plan to march through River Oaks, which they argue has a history of racial profiling. Meanwhile, a Facebook page is encouraging gun owners with concealed handgun permits to bring their weapons to a counterdemonstration.
“I understand the frustration on both sides of the issue,” said Chief Charles McClelland. “I understand it’s a very volatile issue.”
Nonetheless, McClelland says he expects the demonstration to be peaceful. So do the organizers of the protest, who’ve already staged two other major demonstrations earlier this week.
“We expect a peaceful protest,” said Quannel X, who’s organizing the demonstration. “And I’m encouraging everybody who marches with us to remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and how he protested. Let’s follow those same instructions. Let’s follow that same legacy. And let’s not do anything that would bring shame to the memory of Trayvon Martin and our cause of justice.”
But the man who set up that Facebook page under an assumed name said he’s received death threats, so many of them he’s not sure whether he himself will attend the counterdemonstration.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “If we quit, what does that show about America?”
Although street protests often look like confrontations between demonstrators and police, they’re often carefully choreographed acts of political theater. Law enforcement officials frequently meet with protest leaders to coordinate their actions in advance.
Houston police even hand out manuals to demonstrators, offering suggestions on how they can stage peaceful events. Their instructions even offer advice on how they can safely orchestrate their own arrests, if they choose to go to jail.
“Sometimes leaders of protest groups lose control of their groups,” McClelland said. “And sometimes their followers don’t follow the script.
But the prospect of a leaderless social media campaign drawing out crowds of unorganized, armed demonstrators is clearly troubling.