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Protests, vigils in Dallas mark third day of demonstrations as Abbott declares disaster across Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott, left, and Dennis Bonnen, right. (Jay Janner/Austin-American Stateman/TNS)

Dallas faced its third straight day of demonstrations over police killings of black people, a day after nearly 90 people were arrested in protests that stretched from Saturday night into Sunday morning.

Rallies continued simultaneously Sunday, including a gathering at the Dallas County jail to demand the release of protesters.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster Sunday afternoon for all counties in Texas in response to ongoing protests. The declaration allows federal law enforcement to work as Texas peace officers, a move Abbott said “will help protect people’s safety while ensuring that peaceful protesters can continue to make their voices heard.”

“Every Texan and every American has the right to protest and I encourage all Texans to exercise their First Amendment rights,” the governor said in a written statement. “However, violence against others and the destruction of property is unacceptable and counterproductive.”

Abbott also said he had deployed more state troopers and National Guard members to cities, including Dallas, to help local authorities.

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The mayor of Dallas issued a local disaster proclamation, which will allow the city manager to implement emergency measures — including the curfew Police Chief U. Reneé Hall announced later Sunday.

The curfew went into effect at 7 p.m. and was set to last until 6 a.m. for parts of the city, including downtown Dallas, the Cedars, Deep Ellum, Uptown and Victory Park.

Denton officials also announced a curfew that will last from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. through June 7. University Park and Highland Park also will be under a curfew from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m.

Several county offices in downtown Dallas will be closed Monday, including the George Allen Civil Courthouse and the County Administration Building, officials announced. A spokeswoman for County Judge Clay Jenkins said the closures were in response to protests.

Saturday’s protests began peacefully at Dallas City Hall as people across the country gathered to demonstrate against police killings of black people, including George Floyd in Minnesota.

As in other cities, the protests escalated as the day went on, and police deployed tear gas to break up crowds.

Sunday evening, as the 7 p.m. curfew in Dallas neared, hundreds of protesters marched for nearly two hours through the streets of downtown Dallas from Klyde Warren Park to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

Crayton Johnson, a 26-year-old black man from Irving, marched with his two sisters and carried a sign of African Americans who were killed by police.

“I really felt sad and guilty not being out here,” said Johnson, who works in insurance. “You feel so helpless, but this gives you hope that there are people alongside you of all colors.”

Outside the Dallas County jail earlier Sunday afternoon, about 20 people demanded the release of protesters who had been arrested. Officers in riot gear entered the building and locked the front doors as the protesters threatened to enter.

Activist Dominque Alexander, the head of the Next Generation Action Network, called the city’s curfew unconstitutional and indicated he wouldn’t comply with it.

“We’ll be ready for the cuffs and the zip ties,” he said.

Authorities said Sunday morning that 74 people had been arrested the night before on charges of inciting a riot. Fifteen more people were arrested later in the night, suspected of vandalizing buildings, but it’s unclear what charges they face.

The mayor and police chief indicated Sunday that most of the people who had been arrested during the protests were not from Dallas, but they haven’t provided details about where those people live.

Police have not provided a list of who was arrested and what charges they face. Asked several times Sunday for details about the arrests, representatives for the department said they were still compiling the information.

Shortly before 4:30 p.m. Sunday, four people were released from the jail, including protesters Lily Godinez, 20, and Martha Osyai, 19, and freelance photojournalists Christopher Rusanowsky, 29, and Sohaib Akhtar, 19.

Godinez said she had been holding a sign by her car at a protest Saturday night when she was arrested by three police officers. She was booked about 11 p.m. Saturday and didn’t see a judge until 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

“I came out to march for justice and for this not to happen,” Godinez said.

Osayi said she had been trying to leave Saturday’s protest with a friend when several officers ordered them to the ground. While she was in custody, she said was cuffed so tightly that her hands swelled and needed to be recuffed.

“Some people were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Osayi said. “We weren’t rioting.”

Akhtar cried when he saw his father, Shahid, outside the jail.

“It means so much that you’re here,” Ahktar told the protesters.

The attack on a man in a Victory Park late Saturday came toward the end of the second straight night of unrest in Dallas among demonstrators protesting incidents of police violence across the nation.

While the demonstrators gathered outside the jail, about 60 protesters gathered outside the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas.

They were peaceful but vocal.

Two Dallas police officers approached the group, and told them they’d be enforcing city ordinances — specifically about blocking traffic.

Protesters shouted at the plainclothes officers, and the 70-second encounter ended with the officers walking away.

“If you don’t force somebody’s hand, and you’re asking for it nicely, you can’t really expect a result,” said Caleb Love, a Lamar University senior who organized the protest. “I pray that this is a peaceful protest, but at the end of the day there’s many things that the American government has literally taken that was not rightfully so theirs.”

The group left after the encounter with the police and started marching toward the jail.

They stayed on the sidewalks and did not block traffic. A line of police cars started to follow, with one using a microphone to tell people to disperse.

The group stood on a street corner to protest before police cars stopped traffic and the group dispersed after officers warned them they could face arrest.

Sunday night in Fort Worth, a peaceful march grew tense as protesters locked arms and advanced toward a line of police on the Trinity Bridge. Officers told them it was an unlawful assembly and urged them to turn around, the Fort Wort Star-Telegram reported.

Police briefly got many in the crowd onto sidewalks, but demonstrators returned to the traffic lanes and the standoff continued more than half an hour later.

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© 2020 The Dallas Morning News