Hundreds of people of all ages turned out to Rockwall’s Harbor on Wednesday night for a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration, protesting police violence against black Americans, showing solidarity with the families of recent victims such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and calling on Rockwall city and county officials to be agents of change.
The demonstration was largely organized and led by Christian Giadolor, a graduate of Rockwall-Heath High School and a current student at Stanford University.
“Rockwall likes to act like black lives don’t matter,” Giadolor told the gathering as it prepared to march around the Harbor. “Rockwall likes to silence the voices of marginalized identities. Well, guess what? They’re going to hear us today.”
After leading the protesters around the Harbor while chanting “No justice, no peace,” “I can’t breathe,” and others common to the Black Lives Matter movement, the group settled at the Harbor amphitheater where Giadolor and others briefly spoke.
Giadolor and others’ messages centered around the most recent examples of American police violence against minorities, as well as strongly encouraging those in attendance to register to vote in the November federal and municipal elections.
“However, perhaps the best voices to hear from are those of black mothers, who go to bed fearful, ‘Are the police going to take my child tonight?’” Giadolor said.
One mother who spoke, who did not identify herself by name, related a personal anecdote about her teenage sons, who were anonymously reported to Rockwall police for “suspicious activity” despite having done nothing illegal.
“We are not dangerous. We are not violent,” Giadolor said, punctuating the mother’s remarks. “This should be a wake-up call for us to end racist policing, for us to end cash bail, for us to end the unjust punishment of non-violent offenders.”
To that end, Rockwall Police Department Chief Max Geron attended the protest, per Giadolor’s invitation, and assured the crowd that Rockwall law enforcement will not tolerate racist mentalities or behavior in its officers.
Geron said in addition to standard training, his officers are required to undergo specific training in recognizing and eliminating bias, including racial profiling and training in de-escalation techniques to avoid violence.
“I want to assure you that there is not an officer in my department, who wears this uniform, who saw what happened in Minneapolis and thinks that’s OK,” Geron said in his address to the demonstrators. “We are hurting. We are members of this community… I am sorry for any incidences of racism that have occurred at the hands of police, and you have my commitment that I will not tolerate it.”
Geron further assured the crowd that he would do “anything in (his) power” to remove and discipline any of his officers who show any such behavior.
County Judge David Sweet also spoke to the crowd, commending them for supporting a worthy cause with a peaceful protest and similarly assuring them of the county’s support in working towards fair and unbiased policing.
Giadolor said he also invited other city and county officials by email, but many did not attend the demonstration and had not replied to his invitation.
Although the Herald-Banner was not able to reach other council members for comment, Councilman Trace Johannesen said he commended the demonstrators for exercising their First Amendment rights peacefully, but he was frustrated that the invitation to speak came the same day as the event.
“I have a full-time job and hadn’t even seen the email invitation yet,” Johannesen said, “and even if I had, I already had a prior commitment in another county that kept me out until 8:30.”
Johannesen said he was surprised to learn that Giadolor had called him and other non-attendees out by name and had encouraged those in attendance to vote them out whenever possible, especially since he said he didn’t know of the protest until he checked his email that evening and responded to Giadolor.
Councilman Bennie Daniels expressed similar sentiments, saying that he spent the entire day on a trip to Waco and didn’t even see the email until noon Wednesday.
“To get called out for not attending like that, when it was all done in the same day, that really just hurts their message more than helps it,” Daniels said.
Daniels said he had a commitment to working toward a community of positive change, but that more notices is needed for city officials to attend public events.
The protest leader also specifically chided Superintendent Dr. John Villarreal for not attending, commenting that the atmosphere in Rockwall ISD schools has made many feel like they can be a black athlete, football star and track champion, but not a successful black student and intellectual.
Villarreal declined to personally comment on Wednesday’s protest, in particular, but he issued a statement Wednesday, saying, “Rockwall ISD stands with you as you and your family try to understand these difficult times.”
Villarreal went on to say that RISD will continue to support its “Better Together” program, a core part of which is addressing the value of diversity on RISD campuses.