HARLINGEN — More than 30 people could be counted chanting with force.
“No justice, no peace,” and “Say his name, George Floyd,” could be heard as a crowd gathered at Harrison and Third streets Tuesday morning to express support and solidarity to the black community in Harlingen.
Posters had messages such as, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention” and “together we rise” as cars passed by and honked to show support.
Joyce Vano, one of the organizers, said she wanted to call the gathering “a partnership of solidarity for the black community and the injustice currently running unchecked.”
Vano is a Harlingen resident and said this came about from a simple act she did at her local Walgreens.
“The other day after sitting on the couch, watching the news, getting depressed and watching a man be murdered in my living room I needed to go buy some things at Walgreens,” she said.
“I happened to have a poster board and I put ‘Justice for George Floyd’ on my poster board and walked to Walgreens with it. I was thankfully received very positively with honks, waves on Sunday,” Vano said.
“Harlingen has the atmosphere that they are also grieving about what is going on with this current situation,” she said.
Vano reached out to her friends who had a network of people to organize the protest and spread the word.
“This has got to stop. Enough is enough. This has been going on since Rodney King in 1991 and then we had Breanna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery. We have seen this happen too often and nobody is doing enough,” she said.
“They are the ones we look for protection. I cannot imagine the heartache being in the black community and being ravaged by coronavirus and walk somewhere and get harassed. If we don’t support other communities and stand up and go vote locally, I think it has hit a nerve in the people in America that say no we do not agree this is the right move,” Vano said.
For her, justice served would be charging every police officer involved in Floyd’s death.
As people arrived to stand on the right side of Harrison Street, more joined in as minutes passed by. Following Vano’s Facebook post all attendees were wearing masks as required.
Renda Ashley, from Harlingen, drove by and stopped to take pictures.
“ I was driving by and I saw them and I said that is so cool that they are doing that. I really support it and I think it is necessary,” Ashley said.
“It shines a light on problems we have had and a lot of us have said it doesn’t exist but it does exist. This is bringing a light to that. I am proud of these people for doing this,” she said.
Todd Jones, associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Harlingen, was in his office in the morning and decided to step out.
“I think it is important as many people who feel there has been an injustice done not only in this situation but throughout the history of our country, and the way that we treat black Americans should be showing their support for this as visibly as possible,” Jones said.
“The more we see this kind of reaction to violence against black bodies in our country, the more we understand this is not an isolated incident but something much bigger than that. To show up is the least we can do and there is more we can do, but the first step is showing up, listening and speaking when it’s our turn to speak,” he said.
Joyce Hamilton, 69, a Harlingen resident, is another of the main organizers of the protest.
Hamilton has been living in the Rio Grande Valley for 18 years and 16 years in Harlingen. She is good friends with Vano and they have worked together on various projects.
Hamilton wore a T-shirt with a fist and the words “I can’t breathe” printed on it.
Hamilton said Vano shared a photo of herself at Walgreens in their friend group chat.
“She was holding her sign up on a street corner and I saw that photo, and I decided we needed to all be supporting her in that. And I suggested we do a larger protest,” Hamilton said.
“By the end of the day two days ago we had decided for this morning, and we were just amazed at how it spread once the announcement went on Facebook,” she said.
Hamilton did not expect as many people to come out for the protest. She said she estimated it to approach as many as 75 or a 100.
“This is important because we have been dealing with this for decades and decades. Harlingen is a city with very few black residents, but I think we need to have justice for our brothers and sisters who do not receive the same kind of attention that we do out in the world,” she said.
“My white privilege is something I believe strongly I need to use which is a very real thing, to try to reach out and be an ally to those who need that support. I see this protest as an opportunity to stand for justice and to recognize all lives matter, of course. But black lives have not mattered the way they should,” Hamilton said.
Murray Blackwell, 32, a black man from Harlingen, spoke with Hamilton about how he felt about the current situation and expressed support to protests being done.
“You have to keep doing this; you have to keep showing them we are tired. We really want justice all the way around,” he said.
“That’s why when people say, ‘oh, they out here tripping on one man’s murder,’ no, they tripping about a lot of stuff, they just overlook it,” Blackwell said.