A slew of Houston protest leaders have been arrested in the past week on charges ranging from simple jaywalking to felony tampering with evidence, prompting allegations that police are targeting local organizers in an effort to shut down protests following the presidential elections.
The result could be a “chilling effect” on free speech, said defense attorney Brian Harrison.
At least seven people — including leaders with Black Lives Matter, the Black Panthers, a local socialist group and other organizations — were arrested during a string of Houston protests.
“It is my belief we are in the middle of a police campaign to tamp down on demonstration and protest after the election,” Harrison said.
Some protesters claim police are zeroing in on local organizers.
“The leadership is being targeted,” said Ashton P. Woods, a leader in the local Black Lives Matter movement.
When asked about the allegations, Houston Police Department spokeswoman Jodi Silva highlighted the department’s experience with covering public events and officers’ ability to help make sure everyone can exercise their right to free speech.
“There are times there are arrests when the violations of the law are committed,” she said, “but any time somebody feels that the department has treated them unfairly we request them to make an internal affairs complaint.”
One of the most publicized cases was the arrest of Sheree Dore, a Black Lives Matter organizer and homeless advocate accused of punching a police horse.
Even as Dore appeared in court Monday — where the judge more than doubled her bail — prosecutors were preparing to file similar charges against another protest leader, Joseph Wade, who often attends Houston protests dressed like Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.
During a rowdy Nov. 10 anti-Trump protest, Wade was initially arrested and cited for jaywalking, according to court documents.
Three days later, he was charged with felony harassment of a public servant for allegedly spitting on the officer who told him not to jaywalk.
Then on Tuesday, prosecutors filed another felony charge alleging that Wade punched a police horse named Sgt. Curly.
Harrison, Wade’s attorney, said he believes HPD keeps files on protest leaders “and they have ended up arresting a number of those people this week. But whether that’s enough to say that they’re actively targeting the leadership, I don’t know.”
Bryan Sweeney, a Black Panther who was arrested both at the Nov. 10 march and again on Tuesday, was more outspoken.
“They’re telling the leaders things like, ‘We’re going to arrest you today,'” he said.
But whether are not police are targeting specific people, Harrison said, the arrests are unprecedented.
“I am not aware in the 16 years that I’ve been active in Houston politics of any string of arrests like this flowing from demonstrations in Houston and I think it is most clearly sending a message to people – stay away,” he said. “Stay home or you will be arrested.”
The protesters say arrests won’t stop them. More actions are planned for the next week, including a Sunday afternoon anti-Trump demonstration at Westheimer and Post Oak.
“You can jail the revolutionary but you can’t jail the revolution,” Sweeney said.