The Story That Didn’t Happen

At three Tuesday afternoon I was home, trying to punch out a story through the fog of the night before.

My wife called. “You should get down here. The riot squad just arrived.”

As I drove up, officers were walking down Overland, slapping bundles of industrial zip ties, the kind police use as handcuffs for mass arrests, in their hands. Cops in helmets had manned the northern perimeter, and a portly officer stood in the gap between the end of the fence and the old photographer’s studio.

“We were across the street but one of the cops told us we should move so we didn’t get tear-gassed,” my wife told me. She was holding Floyd, our one-year-old son, on the corner by Don Luciano’s vacant tenement.

Apparently the riot squad was preparing to forcibly remove the preservationists.

I walked around the block and ducked under the yellow police tape that stretched across the sidewalk.

And I was in.

The group inside was mixed. Young social activists. University professors. Lots of media. Precinct 2 County Commissioner David Stout, District 2 City Council Representative Alexsandra Annello, Sito Negron from State Senator Jose Rodriguez’ office and other members of the Senator’s staff. Later Senator Rodriguez tried to enter, but the bouncers wouldn’t let him in.

Up until the arrival of the riot squad, relations between the preservationists and the police were cordial. The preservationists weren’t trying to enter the damaged buildings. When the police asked them to, they moved across the street. It wasn’t till after the riot squad arrived that the preservationists, fearing their imminent forcible removal, chained themselves to the wrought iron of the historic buildings.

It appeared to me that the riot squad was sent to escalate the situation. After the arrival of the riot squad, the police would no longer let food into the area. The tone of conversation between the preservationists and the police changed. One of the members of Senator Rodriguez’ staff filed a report documenting one of the police officers taking a swing at one of the protesters.

A friend of mine, an attorney working for the County, outside the fence, said a police officer told him, “I could arrest you.”

“Don’t I have to do something illegal first?” he replied.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. Assistant Police Chief Victor Zarur spoke with the elected officials and their representatives inside the fence to let them know what was taking place, and no forcible removal of the preservationists took place. At the end of the day, the fences were moved to only enclose the damaged buildings, and the streets were cleared.

It’s hard to understand why the City thought that such a disproportionate display of force was necessary. By the end of the day, there were more police than protesters. About half of the officers present wore riot gear. Many of the preservationists were women in sundresses, and lots of the protesters, both men and women, wore flip-flops. Some used canes. One man was in a wheelchair.

A reasonable person might think that deploying the riot squad on the preservationists was a waste of manpower and scarce resources. Many of the riot squad arrived in what appeared to be private vehicles. I suspect that the exercise used up all of the overtime budget for the rest of the month, and maybe next month as well. I also suspect that whoever sent in the riot squad did so from the remoteness of City 1 and hadn’t visited the site.

Worse, deploying men is riot gear against peaceful protesters is a stake in the heart of the City’s already reeling brand identity. But if the City has demonstrated anything, it’s that the City is going to do what it wants and doesn’t care what anyone thinks.


    1. Yeah, it happened like I told it, but there was no violent confrontation. I reckon that whoever sent the riot squad in was disappointed.

  1. The relationship between the protesters and the police was always cordial and even friendly. Protesters were asking the police to ensure that the court order protecting the buildings was enforced given that a bulldozer had sneaked in earlier in the morning and caused considerable damage to the buildings. The problem was that the city was unwilling to take responsibility for protecting the buildings until a second court order was issued.

    I spend most of the day at Duranguito and talked to several police officers who were very friendly. By the afternoon protesters got a little worried when they saw police officers with riot helmets and the thought the they would be forcibly removed. Later I read claims by the Mayor and demolition supporters that protesters were provoking the police, that they had thrown objects to the police, and that there had been scuffles. All this was false.

    1. I would say mostly always cordial and friendly. The riot squad was stone-faced. They weren’t cordial and friendly, and some of them were assholes.

  2. Everything reported here is exactly the way it happened except for one thing and that, understandably is because you weren’t there to witness it.

    The police that were there in the morning were all that would ever have been necessary if just a modicum of leadership and straightforwardness had been offered by the higherups.

    There was little trust between the preservationists and the city after this egregious and overt act of demolition had occurred in the early morning. But the few officers that were there as early as 10 a.m. when I arrived WERE, in fact cordial with the neighborhood guardians and there were only a few of them present.

    Around noon, and without any announcement as to their intent, the police ushered the fencing company’s workers in to again begin putting up the fence. This, along with the fact that three flatbed trucks, two with the heavy wrecking equipment that had been there the night before and the third carrying the same bobcat that had wrecked the neighborhood that very morning were idling on Paisano waiting to gain entry led neighborhood citizens to believe that the police were going to aid JMR Demolition Company in completing what they had started.

    Of course this led to protests… the first ones of the day, and the physical struggle between police and the now neighborhood guardians turned protesters.

    Had the head of the police, the mayor, or anyone of higher authority come out and spoken to the crowd or at the very least, given those assurances to Senator Rodriguez, Commissioner Stout, or Representative Annello all of whom everyone trusted, to pass word onto the crowd before beginning the erecting of the fence to reassure everyone that no further destruction would be taking place, NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE ESCALATED AT ALL.

    THIS was the worst breakdown in leadership I have ever seen in this city.

  3. Gross Leadership Failure at EPPD and at El Paso City Government.
    Has anyone seen our City Manager?

  4. This wasn’t the worst breakdown in city leadership–it’s merely the depraved endorsement of a history of failure on the part of the city. I can understand if this shocks some–and I’ll readily say that I wasn’t there. I’m also skeptical that anyone from the city would have been able to contribute much good–because the depravity and greed are what they are. People SEE and know this. Some know it intimately. This wasn’t the worst–it’s the perpetual plug that we are all expected to pay for every time the Silver Spoon set decides it wants another land grab. Nothing new there.

    The city is responsible for decades upon decades worth of disgusting, appalling behavior absent any ethics, much less any record of accountability that would be considered reliable. If you weren’t here for the foot patrols, the treatment of our older LGBT community during the early years of the AIDS pandemic or during so many other crises, then I wouldn’t be surprised at the clear lack of ethical leadership. As it stands now? This is just another disgusting ball of whacks from the city that serves up its own citizens to those who want to marginalize them further. This is the city on the crack we call greed and avarice and of course it’s ugly. When has submission to gentrification and white supremacy been anything else, even here?

  5. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail …
    Shame on city hall and its minions.

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