AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott announced Saturday evening he was activating the Texas National Guard “in response to protest violence” across the state.
Thousands of protesters marched in Texas cities on Friday and Saturday, stirred to action after the death of Houston native George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, who died while in police custody after a white officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“Texans have every right to exercise their First Amendment rights, but violence and looting will not be tolerated,” Abbott said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, Abbott also deployed more than 1,500 officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety to cities with protests.
“Texas and America mourn the senseless loss of George Floyd and the actions that led to his death are reprehensible and should be condemned in the strongest terms possible,” Abbott said earlier. “As Texans exercise their First Amendment rights, it is imperative that order is maintained and private property is protected.”
The troopers were being sent to Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, the governor said.
In Austin, hundreds of people gathered outside police headquarters and many later marched peacefully along Interstate 35 as police shut down the interstate to traffic.
The rally was for both Floyd and Michael Ramos, a 42-year-old man who was fatally shot last month by Austin police.
In a statement to Austin media Ramos’ mother, Brenda Ramos, issued a plea for calm.
“I am heartbroken over the terrible murder of George Floyd. I understand the anger. But I am pleading with the community, please do not commit violence in my son Mike’s name,” the statement said.
In Houston, Police Chief Art Acevedo said nearly 200 people were arrested Friday during a protest in which many blocked an Interstate 45 ramp and a highway.
Those arrested “participated in unlawful assemblies,” Acevedo said Saturday on Twitter. “Most will be charged with obstructing a roadway,”
Protesters also blocked a Dallas interstate and one officer suffered non-life-threatening injuries, police said on Twitter.
Authorities Dallas used tear gas and those in Houston used pepper spray to disperse crowds that numbered in the hundreds. Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall said officers were making sure the protest was peaceful when violence began.
“Then all of a sudden bricks start hailing, hitting our squad cars, hitting the officers … I almost got hit with a brick,” Hall said.
It was not clear how many were arrested in Dallas and police did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Saturday.
Protests have spread across the U.S., fueled by outrage over Floyd’s death. On Friday, the white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck was arrested and charged with murder.