At last night’s town hall meeting, hundreds of Houstonians filled the Eldorado Ballroom in the Third Ward to demand a fairer, more accountable justice system.
In the wake of the police killings and subsequent non-indictments of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, community members expressed fear for their children, anger with police, and a desire to utilize the momentum of recent protests to enact reforms.
The meeting was organized by the Houston Justice Coalition, a grassroots group currently pushing for body cameras for Houston police, a stronger HPD citizen review board, and the diversification of grand juries. The coalition hopes to “improve our justice system at the city and state level” by holding police and elected officials accountable to their communities.
It’s a movement that Houston needs. Since 2004, Houston grand juries have let officers walk in 288 instances of excessive use of force, according to Houston Justice Coalition organizer Damien Jones.
Part of the problem is how the grand jury system works in Harris County. Unlike normal jury service, Harris County grand jury service is opt-in and requires registration in the presence of a notary (you can find the application here. Because they require extensive time commitments and jurors are compensated poorly, grand jurors tend to be older, white, and generally not representative of Houston’s diversity.
Kathy Blueford-Daniels spoke about her experience serving on a grand jury multiple times. She emphasized that for people who are chosen to serve on a grand jury, it’s important to “ask questions and stand firm.” By the end of the night, more than 70 town hall attendees had completed grand jury applications.
— Senora Harris (@SenoraWrites) December 5, 2014
After the floor was opened up to attendees, audience members at the mic raised questions about how to move forward and expressed their anger and frustration with systemic racism. At one point, the crowd gave Houston writer Nikala Asante a standing ovation for her moving poem “Cut To Commercial”:
Along with “I can’t breathe” and “Hands up, don’t shoot,” the chant repeated throughout the forum last night was “Less talk, more action.” And if the momentum demonstrated at the town hall continues to build, more action is certainly coming. As Houston Justice organizer Shekira Dennis told the crowd, “Get to know your neighbor, because this is truly the beginning of a movement.”
To watch the entirety of the town hall meeting, check out Senora Harris’ video of the event on Ustream. The next town hall will take place on January 8 at 6:30 p.m. at 5011 Almeda.
Tonight, community activists will be meeting again to march downtown during the city’s Christmas tree lighting.
Image via Twitter user @SteveRozco.
Natalie tweets from @nsanluis.