Houston Police Prepare for Super Bowl Protests

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The first Super Bowl of Donald Trump's presidency is upon us. It's also the first major international event to be held since Trump's executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States.

Keeping a Super Bowl safe is a Herculean task any year, and so it will be this week for a police chief and sheriff who expressed their concern Tuesday about Trump's surprise rollout of the executive order and their anticipation of protests because of it.

"The timing in my mind was a little problematic," Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in an interview, "because of the heightened emotion, you know, the visceral reaction at first notice of this, so it's that recency effect, it just occurred. Obviously we're trying to roll out some of our (security) measures. But that said, we're anticipating anything anytime you have such a large-scale event."

Houston police chief Art Acevedo said that more information about the executive order would have been helpful.

"Oh, God, listen, I think that the communication and the rollout was really important, and from our perspective, it's better to have a well-defined -- and, let's face it, state and locals, we get caught no matter what the issue is, we get caught in the trenches having to help make things work.

"These things are like aircraft carriers at sea. It takes time to turn the ships, and while intentions may be good, the outcome also relies upon the method in which we roll these things out. And I think that nobody will argue that it probably could have been rolled out a little better."
Acevedo and Gonzalez said Houston was prepared to handle whatever was coming its way.
"I'm not worried about it because we're ready," Acevedo said. "But, bottom line is I think a little information before you roll something out goes a long way in allaying fears and confusion, and that would have been helpful."

Protests over the controversial Trump order erupted last weekend across the country, including two in Houston: one at Bush Intercontinental Airport and another near the perimeter of the Super Bowl's NFL Experience downtown. Acevedo said that crowd was "up to about 2,000-3,000 people, max."

Asked if he anticipates more protests this week, Acevedo didn't miss a beat.
"I'm sure there will be more," he said. "You always prepare for them to happen."

They could be held downtown and near the Super Bowl site itself. "We have a designated area (near NRG Stadium)," he said. "You can't put somebody 2 miles away and say, 'Hey, there you go, have at it.' We will have a designated area close enough for folks so they can make their point. ... The First Amendment is the cornerstone of our democracy, as it relates to the ability of folks to protest and as it relates to the media to do their job, and so we take the responsibility of protecting that very seriously.
Asked if security is being beefed up because of Trump's order, Gonzalez said, "It builds up incrementally with each passing day simply because we're going to have more visitors coming in as we get closer to game time. ... Whether it be this order or something else happening, we're always prepared for it."

Then again, issues of immigration are not new in Houston.

"We're a large city, we're the fourth-largest city in the country, so I think there's a lot of interest in a lot of these issues," Gonzalez said. "We are a city of immigrants. One in four is foreign born, over 92 consulates and over 120 languages are spoken here.

"We're a border state, so we understand. These are important discussions to be had."

And they undoubtedly will be, with Trump's order in the headlines and the eyes of the nation on the Super Bowl. 

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February 1, 2017


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