EL PASO, Texas — A group of about 100 protesters gathered in downtown El Paso on Saturday, defying stay-at-home and social distancing orders, to stage an 'Open Texas' rally aimed at putting pressure on state and local officials to reopen the economy amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The group chanted "Open Texas" at times, as some motorists along downtown streets honked car horns in support. But several downtown residents could also be heard yelling "Go Home" at the demonstrators.
Protesters waved U.S. and Texas flags as well as banners supporting President Trump and signs that read "all jobs are essential"; some wore face masks - including a few with the confederate flag design - while others wore no face coverings at all, in violation of a joint city/county mandate that took effect Friday.
"We're here, we have people from the left and the right. At the end of the day you've got to realize you got two wings attached to the same bird. We are all one people, we are El Paso," said Sammy Carrejo, an organizer of the demonstration. "So we are here to represent every single person affected by the economy, and that is 100 percent of the people."
While protest organizers said they wanted the state to reopen "safely," ironically some rally participants violated the face covering and social distancing requirements that officials have said are aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
Numerous police officers on bicycles were at the protest scene. While they sought to keep demonstrators out of the streets, no citations were issued to those who lacked face coverings. Officers said they weren't issuing face mask citations as yet because the city is still in an "educational" period following the recent issuing of that mandate by the mayor and county judge.
Currently, El Paso has a "stay home, work safe" order in place until May 17 that directs people to stay at home unless they are engaged in essential business or activities. Texas and El Paso have loosened those restrictions slightly in recent days, allowing for some non-essential business to provide 'retail to go' services as well as re-opening walking paths in local parks.
But those who participated in Saturday's protest want all businesses to be allowed to reopen, whether deemed essential or not.
"Our business came to a screeching halt. Of course, the bills keep coming in and the landlords want their rent. The employees want their pay. It has been very very difficult to deal with," said Frank Ricci, who owns the Rocking Cigar Bar. "We had no idea it was going to be this difficult."
Gov. Greg Abbott teased in an interview earlier this week with ABC-7 that a Monday announcement from his office may mark the return of hair salons and restaurant dining being allowed to resume at a time when President Trump is aiming for a swift nationwide re-opening.
As of Saturday, more than 23,000 Texans had been infected with the virus and 623 had died. Texas reported 967 more instances of people testing positive on Saturday, which was an increase of about 4% over the previous day. El Paso-specific numbers were expected to be released later Saturday.