Several hundred people turned out in a field near Abilene's Martin Luther King Bridge Thursday night to protest the death of George Floyd and to call for a unified local response to the problems that surround racial injustice in America.
A large crowd had gathered by 6:00 when the rally was scheduled to start. And it continued to grow as speakers took turns expressing their frustrations and hopes for redeeming the relations between people of all communities. Brianna Royals was overwhelmed by the turnout, saying she was blessed to see so many people show up. “I’m so thankful for you guys. I know it’s hot,” she told the crowd. “But you just have to think about what our brothers and our sisters have endured. And this heat, it’s nothing compared our history and our past that we have dealt with.”
Wearing a T-Shirt that read “You Matter” Mayor Anthony Williams expressed appreciation for the crowd, noting that while they might not be able to influence events in Minneapolis or New York, those gathered can make a difference in this community. “You know what? We are different. I want to challenge you to search in your soul and make your own contribution to Abilene, Texas. And don’t let those outside or inside our community divide us to create schism and division.” Williams said.
When it was his turn to speak, Police Chief Stan Standridge laid out the basic framework of a new initiative he called Threshold. Standridge said his department would be working with Mayor Williams to begin ongoing community conversations. “Through our differences and through relationship we can ultimately begin that new beginning.” A protestor shouted that, “We hear it. We want to see it.” Standridge responded, “You will see it. We are calling this initiative Threshold because we will be the first, we as in the police department, will be the first to step through the door to meet you.”
Standridge said they hope to have bi-monthly meetings involving high school and college students, pastors as well as other concerned members of the community with the aim of building authentic relationships. The chief said they still have details to work out about where and when to meet. But he assured the crowd that he was committed to giving the community a look behind the screen at the police department’s policies and culture.
Once again Abilene’s event remained peaceful. Police SUVs blocked cross-streets along the march route and eventually closed HWY 80, as the crowd chanted and carried their signs over the Martin Luther King Bridge to downtown Abilene.