My last three weeks have been very different. Since the death of George Floyd, downtown Houston has been ground zero for protest activities, both peaceful and violent. From our view, we have personally witnessed the preparation, the marches, the mayhem, and the aftermath. On Friday, May 29, we were caught in the midst of the riot. The Battle of Discovery Green occurred the following Tuesday.
This story begins around 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 26. I was awoken by really loud noises and shouting. This was unusual, especially because Discovery Green closes at 11 p.m. and is patrolled 24 hours a day. It is hard to imagine, but downtown is actually very pleasant on most evenings. This was an exception. As I got out of bed, I saw approximately 50 people hanging out in the middle of LaBranch Street, Discovery Green, and surrounding streets – a party. Some were riding rented bicycles or BCycles – the little red rental bikes that are set up in kiosks throughout town. Others were riding scooters and skateboards. I went back to bed.
The next night around the same time there was a redux of the night before. Rachel immediately started recording the kids on LaBranch in front of our home to document the activity as it was highly unusual. She eventually called the police. The Houston Police responded very quickly and ran them off. I slept through this incident.
On Thursday, May 28, someone sent me a notice about a Black Lives Matters event set for Friday at Discovery Green. Rachel and I are familiar with the Houston chapter leader, Ashton Woods. Ashton ran for Houston City Council in 2019 and has been active in our community for many years. Several of our friends knew him quite well. And we had also witnessed Ashton’s peaceful activism in prior marches.
The horrific tape depicting the murder of George Floyd was in wide circulation and protests had started in other cities. On Friday morning, I ran into a couple of tactical officers from HPD on a run through the park. They were checking doors with security from Discovery Green. Again I found this to be very odd since Discovery Green has their own security and off duty HPD officers when they need them. I asked the officers if there was a concern, but the officers said that they were not concerned and suggested, as a remedial measure, closing the main door to our parking garage.
I then called former HPD Chief Clarence Bradford, a friend who is now working at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Chief Bradford and I have been friends for over a decade and really like him because he is honest, trustworthy, and genuine. Chief, as I call him, rose through the ranks of the Houston Police Department to become police chief. Most police chiefs are brought in from the outside – think Lee Brown, Harold Hurtt, and Art Acevedo. Hometown police chiefs are rare and we should be very proud of them. Fun political fact, Chief Bradford’s rookie training officer was none other than Steve Radack. Yes, Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack was a Houston Police Officer.
Chief called me back after the intelligence and tactical meeting concerning the event in the park. Chief Bradford was optimistic that everything was handled. The Houston Police Department, specifically the Special Response Group (SRG) does an excellent job working with protesters and marches. This group participates in advance planning with march organizers and makes a protest safe for protestors, police officers, and the community alike. Pre-planning also helps with traffic response.
Even after the protest started in the early afternoon, we were not concerned. HPD always has protests under control. We had dinner plans with friends, including our minister and his wife. Rachel and I discussed whether or not we should cancel, but we decided to keep them. It turned out to be a really bad decision.
The march was scheduled to begin in Discovery Green at 2 p.m. and travel down McKinney Street to Houston City Hall, which is bordered by Walker Street, Smith Street, McKinney Street, and Bagby Street. The protest was diverted to Walker Street because of the massive Houston Center construction project. Sadly, this diversion to Walker Street turned out badly for buildings and businesses along Walker.
As the marchers left Discovery Green, Rachel and I prepared for dinner. By the way, I stopped supporting the protests when they turned violent in other cities. The murder of George Floyd was horrific, but violent riots are not the answer. CHAZ is also not the answer. By Friday, we had seen violent riots in Minneapolis. Sadly, Democratic Socialists and anarchists hijacked an admirable cause and issue.
As we were getting ready to leave for dinner, we saw a group of protesters come down LaBranch in front of our building. At that time, we did not know that the protest had fractured into five or six groups from the original protest participants. We later learned that Art Acevedo was not well received by the protesters at City Hall. For years, Chief Acevedo has used his power of persuasion to join protesters and communicate. This time, when Chief Acevedo began to address the City Hall crowd, Ashton Woods shouted him down with a chant of “Release the tapes!” Ashton was referring to the contagion of recent officer involved shootings. This allowed the rioters and anarchists to execute their Houston plan.
The groups divided, which forced the Houston Police to cover them. As one group marched down LaBranch, other protesters tried to enter Interstate 45. Yet another group tried to block Highway 59 and 288. Another group marched on police headquarters on Travis and another group went to 61 Reisner, the old police headquarters and city jail.
At least one other group (possibly two) went through downtown Houston breaking windows, throwing bricks through car windows, and spray painting anti-police rhetoric like FTP and ACAB on buildings. The graffiti, including several Karl Marx slogans, emphasized the fact that these were not peaceful George Floyd protesters.
While at dinner, my phone was blowing up from my child, who knew that we were out on the streets. We have a few friends in law enforcement who were desperately trying to find out if we were okay. Meanwhile, we enjoyed our dinner in the Heights.
Eventually, trying not to scare anyone, I suggested that it was time to leave. Four members or our party had to make it home to downtown. Rachel and I were very worried about our adult son at home. As we got into downtown from the Heights, police were everywhere. So were the rioters. Many streets were closed and Rachel was driving so I could keep my gun hands free. Well, except for the gun that I was holding.
Many streets were closed and the police were in a running battle with rioters in downtown. The broken glass and damage was visible. Rioters were taking over the streets – similar to the street party that had occurred earlier in the week in front of our home. We saw anarchist running through the street throwing bricks and glass bottles at everything and everyone. It was obvious that we were unsafe, even though we were in a very safe vehicle. We witnessed people knock out the windshield of the car in front of us. Meanwhile, we were responsible for returning our minister to his home.
I tried to, as calmly as possible, politely suggest just cracking the rear windows if they see me about to fire my weapon. Firing a gun with all the windows closed will blow out the ear drums of everyone in the vehicle. This was only the second time since living downtown where I thought I might have to fire a weapon. A few years ago, someone tried to rob me at an ATM. I don’t think they had ever seen a 10mm before and thought better of that idea. We both went home safe.
We did get our guests home safely and were able to return to our residence several blocks away. Downtown Houston was badly damaged. Sadly, that Friday, HPD was completely overwhelmed. Do not let anyone suggest to you that this was not well organized and coordinated. The next morning, Rachel and I realized that our early morning observations earlier in the week were dry runs practicing for the melee on Friday.
The news media seems to either have no idea or not care about the damage to downtown Houston. My friends at the Chronicle certainly seemed to be getting a few action shots as the rioters led them around. We took pictures of a lot of the damage on Saturday morning. We had figured out what we had seen on Tuesday and Wednesday was the dry run for the Friday episode. It was carefully planned.
Needless to say, the succeeding protests were relatively peaceful. The camera systems in downtown Houston record everything. This includes rioters accessing Bcycles, car license plates, and faces before masks are utilized. Just a little thinking allows law enfocementto investigate and use various tools to identify the rioters.
The large Tuesday event in Discovery Green was mostly peaceful. The Houston Police Department responded en masse after Friday’s debacle. On Tuesday, they were ready. Additional law enforcement resources were activated and tactical squads stood ready to act. The Texas Department of Public Safety did an excellent job setting perimeters. The destruction that occurred on Friday night did not happen again.
I write this leaving many parts out for security reasons. I do want to be clear: the people peacefully protesting the murder of George Floyd never possessed any intent to destroy downtown Houston. The people instigating the violence and property damage were white liberals/socialists. These bad actors may have been bad influences on a few black youth, but the peaceful protesters should have the ability to protest free from violence and riots. There is much more to this story and I plan to tell it. So, when many were plotting the coup against Keith Nielsen, this is what the Hooper family was dealing with in downtown Houston.