Fort Worth mayor issues 8 p.m. curfew after weekend of George Floyd protests

June 1,2020

See full Star-Telegram article by Luke Ranker here

Fort Worth residents must stay home after 8 p.m., Mayor Betsy Price said Monday as she issued a state of emergency following a night of demonstrations that ended with police deploying tear gas on a crowd near downtown.

The citywide curfew will last until 5 p.m. Thursday, unless the City Council extends the state of emergency. Much like the city’s coronavirus-related shutdown, police will focus on large groups that continue to gather after 8 p.m. and hope to avoid making arrests through education, Police Chief Ed Kraus said during a City Hall announcement. The curfew is suspended at 6 a.m. each morning.

“We take very seriously people’s constitutional right to assemble and peacefully protest,” Kraus said in a solemn tone. “That’s not something we want to interfere with.”

Fort Worth had just begun to emerge from more than two months of closure due to the coronavirus outbreak, making the decision to declare a curfew difficult, Price said. However, she said the confrontation between police and protesters on the West 7th Street bridge Sunday night required action in the interest of “the safety and health of the community.”

“My prayer is for peace and calm,” she said.

Price said she chose a citywide curfew to not single out specific areas. Protests have mostly been centered in downtown. The decision was made in part because of other curfews in the Metroplex. Of the 50 people arrested Sunday, 25 were from out of town, Kraus said, but police were not able to immediately provide their addresses. Fort Worth will follow Dallas and Denton in implementing a curfew.

The curfew, which bans travel of any kind except for work, school or medical attention between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., is enforceable through a $500 fine and a misdemeanor charge. Kraus and Price did not make clear during Monday’s briefing if those in violation would be held in the Tarrant County Jail, where a large number of inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.

Tuesday’s City Council meeting, originally set for 7 p.m., has been rescheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday to allow the council more time to hear from concerned citizens, Price said.

Though Sunday’s protest was spurred by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, many protesters marched for police reform in Fort Worth.

Local protests over the weekend focused on the October death of Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old black woman. Jefferson was shot in her home by a white officer, Aaron Dean, who resigned. Dean was indicted on a murder charge in December.

Following the 2016 arrest of Jacqueline Craig, which sparked calls of excessive force and racism, a Race and Culture Task Force recommended changes to Fort Worth policies, including the hiring of an independent police monitor who will review police policies and actions.

In possibly one of her first public addresses since starting as the police monitor in March, Kim Neal said during the Monday press conference she has held dozens of meetings with various community groups, mostly through video conference, in an effort to understand what changes Fort Worth residents want from the police department. Neal has experience investigating police departments in Cincinnati and other cities.

The novel coronavirus outbreak stalled plans to hold in-person listening sessions, she said, and there is no timeline for establishing a citizen review panel for the police department, a major recommendation of the task force.

“Overall and overwhelmingly folks have confidence in the police department,” Neal said, though she noted some have raised concerns about civil rights issues.

Gatherings on Friday and Saturday were emotional but calm. That changed late Sunday when objects were thrown and police and the department used tear gas on citizens for the first time in decades.

Roughly 300 people marched through downtown Sunday evening and then headed west, across the 7th Street bridge toward the city’s Cultural District and West 7th bar area. Police indented to let the march continue, Kraus said, but officers in the city’s bike unit reported murmurs in the crowd that some were intent on causing damage in the West 7th area.

Bike officers and a SWAT unit blocked access to the Cultural District. A roughly three hour standoff ended when police used tear gas, smoke and flash bombs to disperse protesters from the bridge. Officers drove protesters back down West 7th Street and began making arrests around 10:30 p.m.

Three police officers were injured during the confrontation, including one who was hit with a chunk of ice and another who broke a leg chasing a vandalism suspect near Montgomery Plaza, Kraus said.