This multi part blog series highlights significant but relatively unknown moments of resistance to racist police violence as depicted in the pages of The Movement. When looking at the stories in The Movement, the continuity between historical events and the emerging movement against police violence comes into sharp focus. Police treatment of Black and Brown people has not changed much, if at all. The murders that are captured on smartphones today and streamed online are not a new phenomenon. They were happening in the 1960’s too, and they were met with rage and resistance then, just like they are today.
In early 1967, Texas Southern University (a historically black college) students and Black residents of Houston began organizing on and off campus. In March, students demonstrated against conditions on campus, which were significantly worse than those at the white college down the street. Their grievances included bad food, early curfews, and a lack of courses in fields like engineering and technology. The administration responded by throwing TSU’s Friends of SNCC chapter off campus, firing the group’s faculty advisor, and working with the local police to have a warrant issued for the arrest of a student organizer.
The administration’s crackdown only further angered students, and their protest expanded. They came forward with new demands, including an increase in faculty salaries, the disarmament of campus police, the removal of the campus dean from the local draft board, a student court for disciplinary cases, and the dropping of all charges against student activists.
In May students joined together with local Black residents to protest poor living conditions and city government neglect. A demonstration in the Sunnyside neighborhood was called after a child drowned in an unfenced city garbage dump. Another was held in Northeast Houston to protest the beating of Black high school students with ax handles and chains. The demonstrations gave city officials an excuse to retaliate against TSU students. On the night of May 16, police officers blockaded the campus. Students gathered and some threw rocks at the police. Soon, hundreds of armed police officers swarmed the campus. They arrested 489 students and opened fire on a dormitory. They shot between 3 and 5,000 rounds of AR-15 shells into the dorm. In the course of the raid, a student and a number of officers were shot, and one officer was killed, almost certainly from ricocheting bullets.
Although the ballistics and coroners reports confirmed that the officer was killed by a .30 bullet (the caliber used by Houston PD), the city used the death as a pretext for crushing the Black movement. They arrested five students known for their political activism–one of whom was actually in jail the night of the raid–and charged them with the murder of the police officer. The students became known as the TSU 5 among activists, who organized support for their defense. Despite the lack of evidence, it took over three years for them to be cleared of charges. In November 1970 a Houston judge finally dropped the charges and the state admitted that the officer probably died from a ricocheting police bullet.
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