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As Texans demonstrate anger over George Floyd's death, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asks for "peaceful" protests

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Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in 2017. Turner on Friday held a press conference and asked people protesting former Houston resident George Floyd's death to remain peaceful. Pu Ying Huang for The Texas Tribune

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner urged the protesters filling downtown streets Friday evening to remain peaceful as they demonstrated their anger about the death of George Floyd, a black man killed in Minneapolis police custody Monday after a white officer kneeled on his neck.

Turner said he understood the pain his constituents were feeling, after watching a video showing a police officer kneeling on Floyd's neck while the longtime Houston resident begged for help in handcuffs. And Turner criticized the three officers present at the scene who failed to intervene.

But, the day after Minneapolis protesters set fire to a police building, Turner asked Houstonians not to escalate to violence.

"I understand when people believe that the system is not moving fast enough or the system is not being responsive," he said. "What I would ask of people in our city...that as you demonstrate or protest, if that is your choice, please do so peacefully and respectfully within our city."

Similar protests took place in downtown Dallas and Fort Worth Friday, and one is expected in Austin Saturday.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Friday's protest, organized by Black Lives Matter, drew several hundred people holding signs demanding justice for Floyd and other black victims of police use of force, such as "Call It What It Is Black Genocide" and "Klan in Blue."

A handful of Houstonians were arrested, according to Turner, when they attempted to walk onto highways or block the roads leading to them. Some, according to local news reports, threw bottles and rocks at police officers.

Floyd, who was 46, graduated from Houston Independent School District's Yates High School in the 1990s, according to a Houston Chronicle profile, and was a familiar face in the historically black Third Ward neighborhood south of downtown. He left for Minneapolis a few years ago, after struggling to find work in Houston.

Close friends and neighbors in Houston described him as a talented basketball and football player and a "gentle giant," who gained the nickname "Big Floyd" for his tall stature. He left behind two children, including a 6-year-old daughter in Houston.

Police officer Derek Chauvin, seen with his knee on Floyd's neck, has been arrested and faces charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Texas elected officials from both parties, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have condemned Floyd's death. In a television interview Friday, Abbott called the death "horrific" and a "consequence of poor police work," though he said it should not reflect on law enforcement officers as a body.