As President Donald Trump urged state and local governments to implement increasingly stronger crackdowns against people protesting the death in Minneapolis police custody of Houston-native George Floyd, officials in Texas remained on high alert Monday night, expressing sympathy with the protesters' anger while also warning of stiff consequences for those who turn violent during demonstrations.
Trump told the nation's governors in a phone call Monday to "dominate the streets" to get control of the protests, and in a later press conference threatened to deploy the military if they don't. Gov. Greg Abbott didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump's direction, but had already activated the Texas National Guard on Saturday. The governor's aides said Monday afternoon that he'll be traveling to Dallas on Tuesday to provide an update on the state's response to the protests.
Meanwhile, curfews remained in effect in Dallas and Fort Worth for Monday night, and San Antonio said it would close Alamo Plaza until 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Abbott was giving a live interview with an Austin television at the time that Trump made his threat about the military. Asked about the president's prior phone call with governors, he told KEYE-TV in Austin that the president was saying "that it’s necessary that all states use all law enforcement tools to make sure that more innocent people are not either killed or maimed or injured."
Abbott also reiterated that he believed Floyd's death was " a horrific act of police brutality" that stokes anger among all Americans. But he said people need to unite to make Floyd's killing a "catalyst for change."
"We must promote peaceful protest and also promote criminal justice reform that promotes justice for all, but at the same time, we must protect our communities from criminal looting and property destruction," he said. "Protesters, they don’t loot, they don’t burn, they don’t destroy. Free speech does not allow throwing bricks through store windows and setting cars on fire. There is a way that we can come together and support the family and friends and community of George Floyd and protest against what people dislike about this country, without ripping communities apart."
On Tuesday, Abbott will be joined in Dallas by the mayors and police chiefs of Dallas and Fort Worth, along with the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety and adjutant general of the Texas National Guard. He said he has spoken with all the state's mayors about the recent unrest.
"And I’ll be candid with you — everybody’s talking about the same thing: They need more resources, because of the large numbers of people who are involved in these protests," he said.
Abbott also announced Monday that the four U.S. attorneys based in Texas will push for federal charges against anyone who comes from out-of-state to loot, commit violence or commit other destructive acts during the protests.
Protestors filled the city centers of Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso over the weekend expressing anger over the killing of Floyd and the broader treatment of black people by police. Footage from a now-viral video showed that Floyd died after a white officer kneeled on his neck long past the point when he lost consciousness. Floyd was handcuffed and in police custody in Minneapolis when officer Derek Chauvin put him into the chokehold.
Chauvin has been fired from the Minneapolis force and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other police officers shown in the video alongside Chauvin were also fired.
In Austin, police deployed tear gas and fired rubber bullets during protests, and protesters blocked traffic on Interstate 35 multiple times. More than 100 people were arrested in or around downtown Dallas Sunday night. And there were reports of broken windows and graffiti in downtown areas across the state.
Abbott announced Sunday afternoon that the entire state of Texas would be placed under a disaster declaration. The declaration allowed Abbott to designate federal law enforcement officers to perform the duties of peace officers in Texas. On Saturday, he activated the Texas National Guard “in response to protest violence” across the state.
Texas politicians from across the political spectrum urged calm and denounced the killing of Floyd. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, this weekend said the case was "clearly police brutality."
"We have a video of the incident, and we can see with Mr. Floyd, the officer with his knee on his neck for eight minutes," he said. "Mr. Floyd has handcuffs. He's clearly incapacitated. He's begging for his life, and what we saw was wrong."
Still, Cruz expressed disapproval of what he described as "this violence and this rioting" by some protesters over the weekend.
"You have a lot of demagogues that want to use this incident of clear abuse by one police officer, and they want to use it to paint every police officer as corrupt and racist," he said.
"And most police officers heroically risk their lives to protect the communities they're in, often minority communities," he added. "And for everyone that is stirring up racial division and engaging in violence and looting, that is completely unacceptable."
Meanwhile, state Democrats kicked off their 2020 party convention with a recognition of recent victims of police violence, as well as a message saying the party will fight for an agenda to change the system.
Matthew Watkins, Patrick Svitek, Abby Livingston, Rebekah Allen and Alex Samuels contributed reporting.