Photos and videos posted on social media show about 20 protesters wearing "White Lives Matter" t-shirts and waving Confederate flags as they rallied outside the NAACP headquarters in Houston on Sunday, Aug. 21. (Monica Akhtar, Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
The Washington Post
Michael E. Miller
August 22, 2016
White Lives Matter staged a rally outside the NAACP’s Houston headquarters on Sunday, sparking controversy and counterprotests in a city where racial tensions remain high after a string of recent incidents.
Clutching Confederate flags, white supremacist signs and, in several cases, assault rifles, roughly 20 White Lives Matter members stood on the sidewalk of a historically black neighborhood to denounce the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“We came out here specifically today to protest against the NAACP and their failure in speaking out against the atrocities that organizations like Black Lives Matter and other pro-black organizations have caused the attack and killing of white police officers, the burning down of cities and things of that nature,” organizer Ken Reed told the Houston Chronicle. “If they’re going to be a civil rights organization and defend their people, they also need to hold their people accountable.”
Reed, who was wearing a “Donald Trump ’16” hat and a “White Lives Matter” shirt with white supremacist symbols, said protesters were “not out here to instigate or start any problems,” despite the weaponry and body armor on display.
“Obviously we are exercising our Second Amendment rights but that’s because we have to defend ourselves,” he told the Chronicle. “Their organizations and their people are shooting people based on the color of their skin. We’re not.”
Reed appeared to be referring to attacks targeting white police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge last month, which were carried out by lone gunmen espousing black nationalist beliefs. (In Dallas a Latino officer was killed and in Baton Rouge, an African American officer was killed). Both Black Lives Matter and the NAACP denounced the attacks.
Sunday’s demonstration in Houston’s predominantly black Third Ward quickly spurred a counterprotest, which soon dwarfed the White Lives Matter gathering.
As police arrived and set up barricades around the White Lives Matter protesters, locals stood across the street. Some shouted, while others shook their heads in disbelief that Confederate flags were flying in front of an NAACP office in a black neighborhood.
“It’s a physical manifestation of white supremacy, white privilege and racism being protected by this country,” a black female counterprotester told KPRC2.
The White Lives Matter protest comes at a tense time for Houston and the country. On July 9, Houston police fatally shot a black man who they said pointed a gun at officers. The shooting, which came the same week as fatal police shootings of two other black men, one in Baton Rouge and another in Falcon Heights, Minn., prompted criticism from Black Lives Matter activists. The Houston shooting came two days after the attack on Dallas police.
Several other incidents in the city have raised racial tensions even further. At the University of Houston, the vice president of the Student Government Association was sanctioned after she wrote “Forget #BlackLivesMatter … More like AllLivesMatter” on Facebook shortly after the Dallas attack.
Earlier this month, authorities released video showing an African American woman calling 911 and saying she was “really afraid” of a white cop who had pulled her over. The woman was then violently arrested, although the officer was cleared of wrongdoing.
In May, city officials voted to rename seven schools named after people with ties to the Confederacy, including Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis.
Last year, the University of Texas announced it was removing a statue of Davis from its campus in Austin, about 160 miles west of Houston.
Sunday’s rally was not the nation’s first White Lives Matter gathering. Others have drawn similarly small crowds, such as a July 30 protest in Buffalo that was organized by neo-Nazis and also was dwarfed by counterprotests.
Comments by the White Lives Matter protesters Sunday also seemed to echo opposition to the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse last summer. The flag was taken down after avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof allegedly killed nine African Americans at a church in Charleston.
By Shauna L. Howard (@ShaunaLHoward)
By Shauna L. Howard (@ShaunaLHoward)