Update and Answers on Protest Roadblock in Plano

Thanks everyone for waiting patiently while I tried to gather information and answers. I've received answers to all of my outstanding questions, and I'm mostly satisfied. I'll go through everything below, but first I'll reiterate what stated at the outset:

  1. I'll support anyone's right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances. I don't care who you are, or what your cause or issue is, I'll defend your right, as protected by the First Amendment.

  2. I will not support anyone who willfully violates the law in the name of protesting. I don't care who you are, or what your cause or issue is--if you flout the law, you've lost my support or tolerance.

I'll also state that in my original article, which I published last Saturday in response to the viral video, I urged everyone not to leap to conclusions and fill in the blanks on their own, and right there in the title of that article, I did the same thing and assumed it was BLM activity.

In fact it wasn't BLM, though I'm positive there were BLM activist or supporters or sympathizers in the group. We learned later that it was a protest for the death of Marvin Scott two months ago today. The same group has been protesting pretty regularly in McKinney and Frisco, but it gained national attention because of the altercation with the driver who got out to confront the people blockading the road. It was viral video material, and it happened to occur on Plano territory, just across the border with Frisco, on the Plano side of 121. Though Plano Police were aware there would be a protest march in Frisco, they had no indication it would come into Plano, and I have no reason to believe otherwise given their prior activity where they stayed out of Plano. That was the group's first foray into Plano, and is how Plano was dragged into this whole mess. Had they stayed on the other side of the road, it would be Frisco in the national spotlight, as there is a video of the group marching for a couple of hours through Frisco, apparently also illegally blocking the streets based.

Now I'll address the most prominent narratives I've heard and questions folks have had:

Narrative 1: The police "let" the group blockade the roadway

The Plano Police are the finest anywhere, and are the reason Plano is ranked annually as one of the very safest cities in America. In the original video, there was just one officer on the scene, with a mob of people. There was no way he could or even should try to arrest everyone on his own. He was called out, on what was already a busy day, in response to a reported traffic issue. Presumably someone saw traffic backed up and reported a light out, or an accident. There was no reason for multiple officers to respond to a call like that.

When he arrived on the scene and saw what was really going on, he called for backup immediately. I've seen some people asking why he didn't call for backup--from even that 2-minute video, there's zero reason to believe he didn't. Once he made the call, it would take a few minutes for sufficient backup to arrive, and even longer because guess what: there was an obstruction in the road. They couldn't just mosey up in their patrol cars.

When backup arrived, they asked the people blockading the road to clear the road, and they did so. I understand that they complied immediately. This, in fact, is proper police procedure. If the police see someone doing something that isn't apparently endangering people or property, they should warn the offender. If the offender then indicates they don't give a flip, then things get more serious, but that isn't what happened here.

This group, or at least many in it, were looking to be confronted and/or arrested. The fact that Lee Merritt was there with a t-shirt saying "Legal Observer" is evidence enough of that. (That's rich, by the way, as "Legal Observer" Lee Merritt was breaking the law along with everyone else in the road).

As I wrote on Saturday, the officer in the video didn't "target" the driver--he was trying to keep everything as chill as possible until backup arrived. During the two minutes of the video, the driver was clearly the most agitated person there, which is why the officer paid more attention to him, but the officer still was just trying to keep the driver and the protesters apart and keep everything from getting violent.

That officer handled things during the two minutes we saw exactly the right way, and after he arrived on the scene, the whole thing was over within 7 minutes. The police didn't "let" it happen. Had they ordered the road cleared, and the protesters refused, and the police did nothing as a result, then they would have let it happen.

None of that is to say they should have blockaded the road in the first place, but the officers handled it right for what it was, and that it was a first (unexpected) incident. I know, you're left with the same question I had, which is "What about next time?" I'll address that further down.

Narrative 2: One of the protestors pulled a gun on the driver

On Saturday, we saw the picture below (Pic 1) circulating on social media, of an apparent gun being pulled on the driver after the driver swatted at one of the cell phones people were pointing at him. When I saw this first pic, it looked slightly odd to me, like the barrel was too short, with a curve at the tip. But then I saw Pic 2 (scroll through the image slider below to see all the pictures), and it looked much more handgun-like.

Remember that the weapon was visible only for a second or so in the 2-minute video, and there were a limited number of still frames that people were able to take.

On Monday, the Plano Police released Pic 3, which was taken at the scene by an officer, and shows a stun gun, explaining that's what was brandished at the scene. The problem was, a lot of folks, including myself, were skeptical. The taser in Pic 3 looks nothing like the apparent handgun in Pic 2. In fact, the weapon in Pic 2 looks far more like a Ruger LCP (Pic 4) or a KelTec PF9 (Pic 5), even including the little curl at the bottom of the magazine in the grip. The object in Pic 3 is obviously a stun gun, but just because the dude had a stun gun didn't mean he didn't also have a handgun.

After I inquired, the still frame was enhanced for me in Pic 6, which shows more of the features of the stun gun, including the yellow tabs and the finger holes. The curl at the bottom, which could be taken for the bottom of the magazine (as shown in Pics 4 and 5) now looks a little more like the shadowy area in the palm of the guy's hand.

So I accept he never actually drew a firearm and pointed at the driver, and that it might not have been illegal to brandish the stun gun, but that's still a really good way to get shot.

Narrative 3: The police only charged the driver, not the protesters

The police statement on Monday indicated charges had been filed against the driver, and an uproar ensued. I said after that, charge everyone or no one. I stand by that. What it took me until Thursday to learn was that it wasn't the police who filed charges against the driver, it was the woman whose cell phone he swatted at. When the police took statements from the people at the scene, she was one who gave a statement, claiming that the driver came into contact with her hand when he swatted at her phone. She acknowledged it didn't hurt and caused no damage, but she nonetheless wished to press charges. This was a couple of days later. The police charged no one with anything either at the scene or afterwards. The woman wished to file charges, which she legally has the right to do. She may be guilty of a double standard, but the police are not, I'm happy to say.

Moreover, the driver was not charged with Aggravated Assault, as I've heard some people state. He was charged with "Assault by Contact" in the Municipal Court, which is, I believe, a Class C Misdemeanor, which is the least serious of all misdemeanors, and carries a punishment--if convicted--of no more than a $500 fine.

Again, it doesn't excuse the people in the road, but the police were consistent, which is what I called for (to be fair, they were consistent before I ever called for it--I just didn't know they were consistent until after I called for it).

Narrative 4: The Chief is a BLM supporter

I have no reason to believe the Chief is an actual BLM supporter. BLM is an openly and avowedly Marxist group, and has agitated for nearly a year across the nation. The Chief walked with protesters on June 2nd last year after they poured into the streets. He also spoke, and spoke at a vigil for George Floyd, which I myself attended with other members of council. Undoubtedly many of those protestors were BLM activists or supporters, as some undoubtedly were a couple of weeks ago. This doesn't equate to being a BLM supporter for the following reasons:

  1. The Chief was in uniform and acting in his capacity as Chief of Police, helping to keep things under control, and prevent the unrest we had seen that week in Dallas

  2. On June 2, 2020, Portland was not yet the flaming garbage heap it is today. In fact, the only real riots we had seen were in Minneapolis, and they were fresh. It wasn't for a few more weeks until things got really chaotic nationwide, and walking with the protestors didn't carry the same connotations that it would today

Likewise, what's happened in Portland and other cities around the nation has not happened in Plano. Which leads us to the next item.

Question: What happens the next time they do this?

This is where I was mostly, but not completely, satisfied. I accept that the people who blockaded the road weren't BLM activists, but they were activists nonetheless, and flagrantly violated the law, deliberately creating a disturbance.

The police now know they're willing to come into Plano to flout the law and dare the police to arrest them. As such, the police will be better prepared in the future, but what do you do if the same group does the same thing multiple times? I believe the police handled this incident correctly (if not the communication, which was fraught with issues), but if protestors clear the road after they're asked, only to then go block another road on another day, what will we do? Frisco has to speak for what they do in Frisco, but in Plano we must stand for the rule of law.

I don't mind issuing a warning the first time, but in my book, you get only one warning. If you're threatening life, limb, or property, you get no warnings at all--you're just dealt with swiftly. This was their first foray into Plano. Hopefully there won't be a next time, but if there is, this last warning aside, we must be willing to uphold the law.

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