Houston has a highly diverse population, and in general this is a strength for the city. However, with the increase in civil regarding nationwide, along with the city’s history of civil unrest it’s naïve to believe the city won’t face a similar issue at some point in the current mayor’s term. This raises the question of how will the city respond when civil unrest occurs?
First, let’s look at the recent history on civil unrest in the city. In 2006, students staged a walk out and downtown protest regarding proposed changes in immigration law. At the end of the school day busses were sent to pick up the protestors. The next day a much smaller version of the protest took place, and HPD met the students and returned them to school . More recently, in 2013 protestors shut down 288 (a class ‘B’ misdemeanor pursuant to Texas Penal Code 42.03) while protesting George Zimmerman’s acquittal.
In both instances the protests had criminal behavior involved – truancy and obstructing 288. This raises three issues of concern. The city has a duty to protect the protestor’s health and safety, protect the citizen’s health and safety, and law enforcement against criminal activity. A plan to address any civil unrest needs to account for all three areas. No plan will be perfect. Whatever method the mayor chooses to react to civil unrest will receive criticism as both trampling constitutional rights to protest as well as not going far enough to combat/punish the attendant criminal behavior. With that in mind, the mayor shouldn’t seek perfection. He should, however, seek accountability. More importantly, he should clearly communicate the plan before the issue arises. This ensures that all parties know the ground rules, as well as allowing for an analysis of viability of the proposed action.