As thousands of peaceful protestors converged on cities across America demanding criminal justice and grand jury reforms, protestors in Houston converged on the Galleria area.
Several hundred local protestors entered the Houston mall two weeks ago, and by all accounts staged peaceful demonstrations as part of the nationwide call to action. However in the ensuing days, signs prohibiting further demonstrations were posted at the facility’s entrances, and security forces appeared to have increased in number. Signs posted at entrances throughout the popular upscale mall, warned that “protestors would be arrested and treated as trespassers”.
I asked one mall security guard if they were making a distinction between peaceful and disruptive or violent protest. “Protest,” the guard sharply replied.
However, Shere Dore, one of the leaders of the demonstration was adamant of about protestor’s rights. “We are nowhere near ready to end our actions. We have another action planned next Saturday at noon in the Galleria area. Something has to give in this country and I’m in the hopes we’re well on our way to make some real changes.”
Mall officials referred all questions regarding the signage to Dancie Perugini Ware Public Relations. The PR firm who issued a statement on behalf of the mall’s owner, Simon Property Group, which says, “The Galleria is a private property. In order to provide a safe, quality environment for our tenants, guests and employees, it is our policy not to allow protests or demonstrations of any kind to take place onsite.”
However, a manager at the Microsoft retail store, who wished to remain anonymous, says his company was never told any prohibition against protesting. No store managers that were interviewed claimed any disruption to their business during the demonstrations.
As of noon time on December 15, 2014 a security guard was surprised to see that all the signs had been removed. He however maintained that they were still under orders to enforce the “no protest policy”.
Even as many media outlets were quick to cover the demonstrations which occurred in and around the Galleria area, few if any reported of any violent or disruptive actions by the protestors.
The Houston Chronicle reported that “protestors carried signs and chanted slogans, while some lay on the ground in protest…” The Chronicle also reported that they were told by the Houston Police Department that there were no reports of mass arrest in the area.
Houston’s NBC affiliate, Channel 2 News reported, “shoppers inside the Galleria described the demonstrators as peaceful. (And) mall security was on alert to make sure things stayed calm.” The news outlet added, “Saturday’s protest remained non-violent.”
“For the Galleria Mall to post signs indicating that protesters would be arrested if we were to go into the mall says that we have gotten the attention of those who have the money in that area. Simon Properties who owns the Galleria Mall property had actually threatened organizers of last Saturday’s event with legal action,” says Dore.
“It appears the mall officials showed a heavy hand in handling future protest, which would be occurring during the busiest of all shopping seasons,” says one local attorney. “They provided the necessary first warning, so that individuals were on notice of the consequences of their actions.”
Each year over twenty-four million customers frequent the mall, which has become a Houston landmark. Some local business leaders and ministers believe if more protest or boycotts become necessary, the Galleria will be first on the list.