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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declares state of disaster after George Floyd protests

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Austin police officers stand on Interstate 35 and watch protesters on the frontage road. Police officers would occasionally shoot into the crowd to disperse protesters. May 30, 2020. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Sunday afternoon that the entire state of Texas will be placed under a disaster declaration in response to demonstrators in several Texas cities protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed Monday in Minneapolis police custody.

Under Abbott’s declaration, he has the ability to designate federal law enforcement officers to perform the duties of peace officers in Texas.

Thousands of protesters marched in Texas cities on Friday and Saturday, outraged after Floyd was filmed crying out for help as a white police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to his neck. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was later arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

“Every Texan and every American has the right to protest and I encourage all Texans to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Abbott said in a statement. “However, violence against others and the destruction of property is unacceptable and counterproductive.”

His announcement comes a day after he activated the Texas National Guard “in response to protest violence” across the state. In several of the state’s large metropolitan areas — including Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio — protesters clashed with police who sometimes used rubber bullets and tear gas.

Abbott also sent state resources to Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio on Saturday afternoon and said he’s spoken to the mayors of all four cities, as well as law enforcement officials.

The Texas Department of Public Safety sent more than 1,500 officials to assist local police departments.

The governor has previously called Floyd's death “horrific” and the “consequence of poor police work.”

Abbott’s declaration Sunday comes as other local, statewide and national leaders have called for peaceful demonstrations.

“As protests have turned violent in various areas across the state, it is crucial that we maintain order, uphold public safety, and protect against property damage or loss,” Abbott said Sunday. “By authorizing additional federal agents to serve as Texas Peace Officers we will help protect people’s safety while ensuring that peaceful protesters can continue to make their voices heard.”

Prior to Abbott’s announcement, several Texas cities took measures into their own hands. On Saturday evening, the mayor of San Antonio imposed a curfew as a result of escalating tensions due to the protests.

In Dallas, where officials defended the use of tear gas at protests for Floyd, Mayor Eric Johnson told WFAA-TV that city leaders will also consider implementing a mandatory curfew. In Austin, meanwhile, organizers canceled a protest planned for Sunday afternoon out of fear that “white agitators and other agitators of color” would co-opt the event and put black Texans in harm’s way.