Rose Stewart

Rose Stewart and her son Jarius at the peaceful protest last week in Victoria. (Contributed photo)

‘My parents didn’t raise me to judge anyone by the color of their skin, but they did raise me to be aware’

The death of George Floyd has sparked a social justice movement across the entire nation, and locally, a couple of members of the African-American community, along with the county sheriff, spoke out on the subject and reflected on their own personal experiences.

Nearly everyone can concede that Floyd’s death was one that could have been avoided with proper protocol by the law enforcement officer. Calhoun County Sheriff Bobbie Vickery expounded on what should have taken place in a situation like that, or any situation.

“I believe that the biggest majority of officers do not desire to use force outside of verbal commands to gain compliance. However, when a situation is forcing them to do so, as soon as the threat is gone and compliance is gained, a de-escalation process should immediately take effect as there is no further need for the use of force,” Vickery explained. “Unfortunately, in the situation with Mr. Floyd, that de-escalation did not happen. Although I do not know all of the facts in this case, I do know once he was placed in handcuffs, there were many options available to maintain control without putting his or anyone else’s life in jeopardy. There was absolutely no excuse for the way Mr. Floyd was treated by that officer.”

Vinson Phillips and Rose Stewart, who are both African-American, agree not only that Floyd’s death was unjust and wrong, but they also agree with the peaceful protesting.

“I stand for protesting and not only for George Floyd but for all of the unjust treatment of all African-American’s by law enforcement. It’s happening way too often. It is time for things to change,” Phillips said.

Stewart said as citizens in the United States, all races should stand together and protest in a peaceful manner. She then quoted the great Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Vickery also agrees with the peaceful protest and pointed to the constitution, which gives Americans the right to peacefully protest.

“Having the ability to “peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (ie, protest) is a right afforded everyone by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The keyword being peaceably,” Vickery said.

He reassured that CCSO’s officers will protect protesters that assemble and remain peaceful and will uphold the Constitution of the United States and that of the State of Texas.

However, he stated as soon as a protest becomes unpeaceful those that are then breaking the law will be dealt with as safely and as lawfully as possible to protect all people and property.

A riot is, “In criminal law. A tumultuous disturbance of the peace by three persons or more, assembling together of their own authority with an intent mutually to assist each other against any who shall oppose” BL.LAW DICT. (2D ED.). A Riot is a criminal act under Article 8.04 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office will take whatever actions necessary to safely (and hopefully peaceably) and lawfully disperse any riots that may occur,” Vickery explained.

Both Phillips and Stewart do not agree with the rioting and destruction of property that has run rampant across the nation.

“While I stand for protesting, I don’t agree with rioting and looting because it is putting innocent people’s livelihood on the line as well as at risk of harm. We the taxpayers are left to pay for the damage and destruction in the end,” Phillips said.

Stewart said she has been raised to work for everything she has and said it is absolutely appalling and wrong for people to burn, loot, and trash people’s businesses and things.

“I realize they are angry, hurt, and tired of the injustice. So am I, but I don’t stand for this. It’s not the right way to handle the situation,” Stewart said.

Phillips, 47, said he encountered his first interaction with racism while in college, heading home from Ranger Junior College in West Texas.

“We stopped in a small town to gas up, and the clerk told us as we were checking out, that we need to get out of town before sunset because she didn’t want anything to happen to us. I was puzzled cause I had never had anyone say anything like that to me before. After gassing up, we left the store and immediately were pulled over by a DPS Officer, Sheriff, as well as two deputies,” Phillips said. “The sheriff approached the vehicle with his gun drawn as the other officers surrounded us. He then proceeded to ask why we were in his town. We told him that we were college students passing through, heading home. He ran all of our licenses, and everything came back clear. He returned to the vehicle and told us that that they were going to escort us to the county line. He then proceeded to tell us to never stop in his town again. They escorted us to the county line with the lights on their patrol cars. At that very moment, I vowed that I’d never go through that town as long as I lived.”

Stewart, 50, encountered racism several times in Port Lavaca when she was younger.

“My parents didn’t raise me to judge anyone by the color of their skin, but they did raise me to be aware,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the first time she really learned about racism and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was in elementary school. The first time she experienced it was when she was in the choir. She explained that they would go around to different schools to sing, but one performance, she and other African American students were not allowed to go because the KKK was in attendance.

“I did not know what that was, so I went home and asked my mom. Just so happened the movie Roots was being shown on TV, and she allowed us to watch it so we would understand,” Stewart said.

Stewart grew up on what was called the south side of Port Lavaca, but her father decided to move their family across town to Brookhollow.

“This is where I had most of my encounters with racism. We were the only black family in the neighborhood and considered the only minorities at the time,” Stewart stated.

She explained that their house would get egged and wrapped with toilet paper nearly every day. She said her dad had enough one day and got on top of the roof with a shotgun. Needless to say, it never happened again.

“At the same time, the adults in the neighborhood were going around getting people to sign a petition to have us move out,” Stewart said.

Stewart also encountered being called an explicit racial slur at the age of nine. She would practice basketball, and the neighborhood kids would shout out racial slurs. She defended herself one time, and that is all it took for them to stop calling her names. Her mom used that situation to teach Stewart a valuable lesson.

“She does not at all believe in violence under any circumstance. She educated me that day. She told me God does not like ugly and that I should treat them the way I wanted to be treated. I did not understand that at the time, but eventually I did.”

From that moment on, she and the neighborhood kids became friends.

Phillips is extremely proud to be part of the Calhoun community. He said while the issue of discrimination does exist, it is not overly prevalent in the community today.

“Discrimination is alive and well in our nation. I’m just grateful to be a part of a community that supports the youth. You can have the friends of your choosing, and in time of need, we come together as one,” Phillips said.

Stewart attended the peaceful protest in Victoria and said it was wonderful to see people of all colors and ages standing together.