Refuse to Let Protesters Report
Terroristic Threats while Allowing Unlawful Militias to Patrol
Police in Gainesville, TX have issued arrest warrants for three Gainesville residents: Torrey Lynne Henderson, 27; Amara Jana Ridge, 23; and Justin Royce Thompson, 25 for class B misdemeanor charges of “obstructing a highway or other passageway,” an offense punishable by up to 180 days in jail, $2,000 in fines or both.
A press release issued by Gainesville PD claims these supposed offenses occurred on the evening of Aug. 30 during a non-violent protest march which began at the Cooke County Courthouse, then went approximately 10 blocks east along California Street and back to the starting location. The release included a statement issued by Chief of Police Kevin Phillips, “The majority of the group left the sidewalk and moved into the street rendering the westbound lane impassable,” he said. The Chief also asserted that officers told participants “repeatedly” to return to the sidewalk but that “they refused.”
All three persons thus far wanted by Gainesville PD are organizers with PRO Gainesville, a progressive grassroots organization that has been conducting non-violent protests in the area for the last several months to demand the removal of a Confederate Monument on the county courthouse lawn and to bring attention to racial injustices in the area.
Video footage of the entire march on Aug. 30 shows how protesters remained on sidewalks throughout the majority of their march and crossed streets using official crosswalks as they were available while police walked alongside them in the streets.
Towards the end of the march, footage shows that a few protesters flowed out on to the shoulder of California St into an area assigned to vehicle parking and a single officer is heard shouting twice, “Get out of the road.” The footage shows that cars were still able to pass unobstructed at this time.
As protesters encountered large pools of water along the sidewalk three blocks from the courthouse, some again flowed out towards the street where they continued to march for the last few blocks without any further verbal commands issued by officers. Video footage also shows Justin Thompson, one of the organizers now wanted by local authorities walking at the back of the march, not leading it. “There was a lot of high standing water and objects obstructing the sidewalks, which made them largely impassable for our large group,” Justin Thompson said. “So we had to briefly detour into the streets but we were obviously trying to stay on the sidewalks as we could and we followed all orders given by police.”
In his statement, Chief Kevin Phillips also said, “The unauthorized obstruction of any roadway presents a serious public safety risk to the citizens of Gainesville and those participating in the obstruction activity.” Torreylynne Henderson of PRO Gainesville who is now wanted by police, argues that these warrants are retaliatory.
“This is just another form of harassment and intimidation of protesters, an attempt to delegitimize our work for racial equality in Cooke County,” she said. “There are people out there every week with fingers on their triggers blatantly terrorizing us. Then they go home and make online statements like, ‘It’s time to act like Kyle’ but local authorities aren’t interested in pursuing those individuals for participating in illegal militias or making terroristic threats.”
(A screenshot of a Facebook post made by Cooke County resident Gene Mauldin in response to PRO Gainesville’s protests states, “Its time to act like Kyle” with a call for others to join him in a counter action.)
Over the last few months, PRO Gainesville has issued repeated public statements to assure the local community that they are residents of the area with no ill intent, their only desire to peacefully express their First Amendment Rights but members claim they have faced increasingly aggressive, armed, counter-protests from paramilitary-style groups that have been documented making blatant threats both in-person and online.
Organizers have also documented city and county officers at protests refusing to take police reports from protesters claiming they have been threatened on numerous occasions.
According to Torreylynne Henderson, founder of PRO Gainesville, the warrant issued for her arrest is not about public safety but retaliation. “Chief Phillips is trying to intimidate us into silence,” she said. “That’s why he opened up a tip line for people to call and identify other protesters. He is upset because of our continued efforts to call out the department’s failures to protect the safety of POC and our allies during peaceful protests.”
If Chief Phillips really wanted to enforce laws designed to keep people in his community safe, he should start with section 437.208 of the Texas Government Code.
This century old Texas law bans any “body of persons” other than the regularly organized Texas military forces or armed forces of the United States from assembling any “organization or parade in public with firearms” for the purposes of intimidation.
In 1982, the Southern Poverty Law Center took the Texas Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to federal court for their unauthorized paramilitary intimidation tactics and won. Yet, we continue to see these very same types of militia activities and intimidation campaigns deemed unlawful by the state and federal courts allowed to continue and at times even encouraged by local authorities in Gainesville and at peaceful protests across North Texas.
This kind of activity is exactly what led to the Kenosha murders.
All three PRO Gainesville organizers with active warrants out for their arrest are now in hiding as they make arrangements to turn themselves in to the Cooke County jail tomorrow morning at 7AM. According to Justin Thompson, Gainesville PD are actively seeking their locations. “I know for a fact they have already tried to find me at my mom’s house and a former residence this morning,” Thompson said. Attorney Alison Grinter of Next Generation Action Network Legal Advocacy Fund in Dallas has agreed to facilitate their surrender, bond, and release. “Once we get them out, I’ll drive up there and represent them myself if I have to but we hope to coordinate local representation.”
Other PRO Gainesville members are planning a protest outside the Cooke County jail facility starting Thursday morning to demand the immediate release of their fellow activists after they surrender. A Bail Fund has also been set up to help any other PRO Gainesville members or allies targeted by GPD. The group has also pledged to continue their non-violent protests against the Confederate Monument on the Cooke County Courthouse lawn every Sunday at 6PM.