Standing before a crowd of several dozen outside Fort Worth City Hall last evening, Leon Reed sent a message that was direct and unifying.
“We cannot afford to have a police department that has an us-against-them mindset,” said Reed, a criminal defense lawyer. “We cannot afford to have a community that has an us-against-them mindset against police. At some point, we have to have a genuine discussion about what we’re going to do now for the future of these children and these young adults. There is a perception that we are the problem, but history tells us that we are a part of the solution. We’ve always believed in America even when America doesn’t believe in us.”
The event, March for Reform Kickoff, was a seven-mile walk: first to the newly finished mural of Atatiana Jefferson near John Peter Smith Hospital and then to The Olive Hotel a few miles farther south. The hotel is Reed’s launching point for a 200-mile walk to Austin that begins today. He said his solo trek will take around eight days. Although he does not have an official meeting with Gov. Greg Abbott, the aim of the endurance test is to garner public support for a meeting with Texas’ top elected official. If Reed is given an audience with the governor, the lawyer said his focus will be on police reforms.
Shortly after 6 p.m., the crowd began walking south along South Main Street. Unlike similar protests, the march was quiet and solemn. Once the group gathered around the mural, Reed described the events that led to the killing of Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman, by a white police officer.
“She didn’t have to die,” Reed said. “Since 2002, the state has mandated that municipalities document police stops. Since 2002, every year, without exception, Black people have been stopped, arrested, and searched at a higher proportion than our population. City Council, when you saw it, what did you do to fix this problem? You’re either comfortable with it, or you tacitly approve. When [Mayor Betsy Price] saw the problem in 2011 and failed to address it, [Jefferson] is our result. You had an opportunity year after year to address it, and you failed.”
Julian Johnson, who painted the Jefferson mural, told the crowd how painful it was for an artist to render an image of a person who was violently killed. Reed ended the event with a prayer.
“Father, bless those who come this far by faith,” he said. “Bless those who are willing to go further. God, we need you now. We know that your word says that you will never leave us nor forsake us. Our victory has already been won.”