EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Thousands of protesters gathered in Central El Paso for a peaceful demonstration Sunday evening, which quickly deteriorated after the sun went down.
Organizers held a silent vigil at Memorial Park and marched to El Paso Police Headquarters around 6 p.m. Sunday. Protesters say they were there in solidarity with the people of Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers.
“El Paso has been a strong and united community. We were just victims of a shooting last year. I feel if we can show how different communities come together, we can bring a better future for our society,” said El Pasoan Esteban Loera.
The crowd led chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “Say his name! George Floyd,” and “I can’t breathe” as they walked along the route to EPPD Headquarters.
“I think that this protest has been very peaceful and very powerful, and been able to be a movement,” one protester told KTSM.
After gathering at EPPD Headquarters for about an hour, organizers led the crowd of more than a thousand back toward Memorial Park in hopes of ending the protest.
It was at Memorial Park where things spiraled out of control quickly as a portion of the crowd continued to protest.
A group of protesters returned to El Paso Police Headquarters for a tense, but peaceful standoff with officers while another group remained at Memorial Park.
El Paso Police say those protesters began boxing in their officers, throwing bottles, and even spray painted vehicles. EPPD’s Tactical Unit deployed gas and non-lethal rounds into the remaining crowd, which started a standoff that lasted for hours.
Many who were in the crowd say police were responsible for the quick escalation and say they were hit with tear gas and rubber bullets as they tried to run away.
“Some had been standing close to the cops, but most of us were in the grass across the street — sitting, and even laying down because we were tired. It escalated really, really quickly,” said protester Destiny Garcia. “They hurled tear gas and rubber bullets in our direction, even as people were running away. The park was loud from so may people yelling out of pain because they had either been shot or tear-gassed.”
Garcia tells KTSM she was hit by a rubber bullet in the melee and has a large welt on her leg.
“It was peaceful until the police showed up by the dozens, fully dressed in riot gear, with their hands ready on their guns. They are the instigators,” she said.
KTSM reached out to the ACLU, who was providing legal observation at the protest, for comment. A representative said they are currently compiling reports and will have a statement available Monday afternoon.
Immigration Attorney Taylor Levy was providing legal observation Sunday evening. She tweeted that she observed, “100s of cops forcibly clear out maybe 50 people, including journalists, with rubber bullets and batons.” Levy says the officers had zero provocation to do so.
El Paso Police confirmed to KTSM that one officer was injured in Sunday night’s unrest. That officer was taken by ambulance to the hospital with minor injuries.
Protesters cleared Memorial Park by approximately 11 p.m. and another group remained at police headquarters into the early morning until everyone went home.
KTSM spoke with some protesters who said friends were detained by EPPD. Police have yet to say how many protesters were arrested or charged following Sunday’s protest.