The national coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests has shown people gathering en masse in metropolitan, Democratic-leaning populations. But there is more to the story.
In the past two weeks, protests have been sprouting all over the country (and worldwide), reflecting that police brutality isn’t confined to one community but is a much broader issue affecting the entire country.
In Southlake, Texas, an affluent suburb of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where more than 78% of its population of 33,595 are white, and a majority are Republican, over a thousand people gathered to protest police brutality and racism on June 6.
WATCH: A Young Latina Student Mobilized Her Conservative Town in Texas Supporting Black Lives Matter. To Her Surprise, More Than 1,000 People Showed Up.
Despite receiving some discouraging words from the town mayor, the Progressive Activism Club made up of students at Carroll High School, organized a protest at the Town Square, across the street from Southlake Town Hall. The surprising turnout was seen as a sign that the demonstrations triggered by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have touched a nerve with people beyond big cities like New York and Los Angeles.
“This is my hometown,” Estela Romero, a Puerto Rican student and board member of the Progressive Activism Club who organized the protest, said in an interview with The Americano. “It’s full of strong-minded conservative people, who basically don’t believe everyone should be equal.”
Romero points out to a video from two years ago, which showed two white young women from her high school chanting the n-word. The video resurfaced recently and said she believes she — and other members of the Progressive Activism Club — received death threats because of that video and their organized protest.
During the protest, an organizer spoke to those in attendance and asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had ever experienced racism in their school and in their town. Most hands went up.
Before the protest, Southlake Mayor Laura Hill wrote in a Facebook post that she could not ensure the safety of those in attendance. Organizers felt her stark words would discourage people from coming to the protest.
“The flyer once posted has been shared by anyone who chose to, across Texas and beyond,” Hill said on Facebook, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Our police force can not stop a violent person or people before they start violence. No police department in our country can. Yes, we will take every precaution within our ability, but our families want guarantees that their children will be safe, there are none. Use your voice to demand that this protest remains peaceful.”
“We felt very discouraged after hearing that,” Romero said. “She had every right to say that, but we thought no one would show up.”
Yet people did show up. The club initially got about 300 RSVPs, but they estimate that more than a thousand people were there.
Romero said it was that strong opposition to social justice that prompted her club, which aims to support people of color and bring awareness to injustices, to organize the protest. She said it was very empowering to witness so many people stand up for justice and fight against police brutality.
People on social media shared their experience about what it’s like to live in Southlake and why they decided to attend the protest.
“Actually, I live here in Southlake and those were 2500+ Southlake residents. I knew many of them,” one resident tweeted. “What the far right is failing to see is that #BlackLivesMattters isn’t a partisan issue — it’s an American issue. I’m actually quite moderate but this administration lost me #BLM.”
“Seeing this kind of turn out for a BLM march in Southlake, TX (very white/very conservative) is amazing,” another tweeted. “Thank you to everyone who used their voices for change.”
“It felt weird,” Romero said of witnessing so many people show up to their organized event, “because you would never think you would see something like that. I felt so proud.”
Romero said that while they did receive some threats on social media from strangers who tried to stop the protest from happening, the gathering took place with no incidents of violence. They were surprised to also get assistance from the Southlake Police Department, given the excessive use of force by police officers at protests around the country.
“They were so supportive,” the 16-year-old said. “They made sure to keep us safe. It was surprising to see them there and very comforting.”