On Saturday afternoon, as Independence Day celebrations were getting started in backyards across Dallas, about 40 people gathered in Klyde Warren Park.
Protesters stood holding signs that read “Say Their Names” and “Black Lives Matter" as the afternoon sun beat down on them.
“Many Black people are not connected to this day because, of course, a lot of us didn’t have independence,” said Dominique Alexander, the founder of Next Generation Action Network.
The demonstration marked the 36th consecutive day of protests in Dallas since the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police May 25. The gathering in the park also came just days after the death of Merci Mack, a 22-year-old transgender woman who was found shot to death Tuesday in a Dallas parking lot. Alexander said they were also out because they were tired of Black transgender people being killed in the streets.
Mack’s is the 18th known violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in the United States since the beginning of the year, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Another focus of the protesters was the death of U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who is thought to have been killed in a Fort Hood armory. On Sunday, Guillen's family told The Washington Post that the Army had positively identified her remains.
Army veteran Natalia Montoya stepped on the stage at Klyde Warren Park to talk about her time in the military, as well as Guillen’s death. Montoya said that she, like Guillen, had experienced sexual harassment while in the Army.
Montoya also went into some of the recently discovered, gruesome details of how Guillen’s body was disposed of and said people need to demand justice for her and her family.
As investigators begin to piece together what happened to Guillen, Montoya urged attendees to also look into the death of Pfc. LaVena Johnson, a soldier from suburban St. Louis who died in Iraq in 2005. The Army maintains Johnson died from self-inflicted wounds, but her family disputes the official story of her death.
Beyonce’s “Heaven” played over the speakers in the park as volunteers with Next Generation Action Network staged a balloon release, followed by a moment of silence, in honor of Mack, Guillen, Johnson and many others.
As the song came to an end, two counter-protesters who went by the names Zach and Evan, who declined to give their last names, began talking about God and saying that all lives matter.
“This is a rebellion against God, this is a rebellion against America and this is a rebellion against our government,” Zach said.
At first, Alexander led the crowd through chants to drown out Zach and Evan, but then he invited them on stage to share their message. Zach told the crowd that racism isn’t as prevalent today as it used to be and that everyone needs to repent for their sins. After they stepped away from the stage, Alexander said he thinks the two counter-protesters missed a few messages in their biblical teachings.
As protesters made their way through downtown Dallas, Zach and Evan followed behind them, repeating their messages.
The protesters made a couple of stops on their way around Dallas. The first one was at First Baptist Dallas where Vice President Mike Pence visited last week. Alexander criticized the church's pastor, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, and the church, saying it has attacked every marginalized community in Dallas. Their next stop was The Statler Hotel.
As they approached the hotel, a valet held his fist up in solidarity. Then, a disgruntled hotel employee came out asking protesters to leave. They refused.
“Let’s show them whose streets these are!” one of the protesters yelled.
A little after 3 p.m., the marchers who started in Klyde Warren Park passed by another protest taking place outside Dallas City Hall dubbed “Independence For Who?” Many people outside City Hall wore purple in solidarity with the nonprofit that organized the protest, Not My Son, which focuses on reforming policy that perpetuates systems of oppression.
The protesters made it back to Klyde Warren Park just before 4 p.m., around the same time another demonstration was beginning outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Dallas. This event was organized by the Texas Chapter of the Brown Berets and The Red-Handed Warrior Society. They were there demanding children be released from ICE custody.
Montoya, the Army veteran, was at this demonstration too.
“We are all children of this Earth,” she said to the crowd gathered on the lawn in front of the ICE building.
At one point, about 20 people stood on the lawn before officers directed protesters to move onto the sidewalk. Roberto Marquez, a local artist who goes by the name Robenz, was setting up a piece of work on the lawn before being told to move. He held it up for the officers to see and for protesters to take pictures with before moving to the sidewalk.
It said, in part, that with all the country’s problems, there isn’t much to celebrate on July 4.
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