GAINESVILLE, Texas — The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, and Deandra Grant Law filed an opening brief in an appeal on behalf of three Gainesville community advocates who were charged with a crime while peacefully walking on public pathways while calling for the removal of a Confederate statue outside the Cooke County courthouse in 2020.
On Sunday, August 30, 2020, PRO Gainesville organizers Torrey Henderson, Amara Ridge, and Justin Thompson marched peacefully with approximately three dozen people on a route outside the county courthouse in Gainesville, one hour north of Dallas. The march lasted less than eleven minutes.
Henderson, Ridge, and Thompson walked continuously with other protestors. The march was peaceful, short, and went smoothly. Days later, arrest warrants were issued for Henderson, Ridge, and Thompson for “obstructing a highway or other passageway,” a Class B misdemeanor under Texas law. Last August, two years after that protest, the three were convicted and sentenced to seven days in jail and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.
“Convicting community advocates for, at most, stepping briefly into a public street during a peaceful march is an attack on the free speech rights of all Texans, no matter your political views,” said Savannah Kumar, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas. “Amara, Justin, and Torrey were exercising a long-cherished right to march for change in our country and for that they were sentenced to jail time. The law is on our side and we hope the appeals court will overturn their convictions and affirm that the right to peaceful protest is protected here in Texas.”
“The leaders involved in the protest and I were raised in the Gainesville community. We went to the schools, churches, and organizations here, yet we were treated as outsiders when we wanted to share our own histories and experiences,” said Torrey Henderson. “The goal of that protest was to provide education about Confederate emblems and ask to remove the Confederate monument that is on our local courthouse lawn. As Texans, we should value our freedom to speak out and advocate for change.”
The ACLU of Texas is asking the Seventh Court of Appeals to overturn these convictions. This case sets a dangerous precedent for Texans across the state who value free speech and particularly for those fighting for a more inclusive future.
“In a small town like Gainesville, which has an infamous and violent history that includes the Great Hanging and terrorism from the Ku Klux Klan, it’s no wonder people in power are trying to silence voices calling out racism any way they can,” said Justin Thompson. “I hope people keep marching and fighting for a better world, keep sharing stories about the true history of Gainesville, and keep advocating for racial justice.”
PRO Gainesville is a grassroots group of residents that began protesting at the county courthouse in June of 2020, calling for equality in their community and seeking to have the Confederate statue removed.
“My vision for Gainesville is just that everyone in the town feels comfortable – no matter what race, no matter how they identify,” said Amara Ridge. “Regardless of the color of our skin or the amount of money we make, our public streets belong to us, and we won’t let local officials silence our voices or steal our freedom.”
Witness their story in their own words: