‘This is our angel now’: Houston community rallies for justice in aftermath of Jazmine Barnes slaying

This originally appeared in The Lily, a Washington Post magazine.

The rally began at noon with the clamor of dozens of motorcycles, and ended with the release of purple and white balloons into the afternoon sky.

On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered in the parking lot of the Walmart at 5655 E. Sam Houston Parkway, the scene of Jazmine Barnes’s death on Dec. 30. Jazmine was a 7-year-old black girl killed by a white man in a pickup truck who shot into the car she and her mother and three sisters were in.

A motley crowd gathered in the parking lot to mourn and celebrate Jazmine, show solidarity for her family, and urge law enforcement and community members to ensure Jazmine’s killer is found and brought to justice.

[ A black 7-year-old was killed in Houston. Her family thinks it was racially motivated.]

Just hours after the rally, officials from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office announced that 20-year-old Eric Black Jr. has been charged with capital murder in the slaying. Early Sunday morning, police said they identified the suspect based on a tip that was corroborated by their investigation and added that Black “admitted to taking part in the shooting” after he was taken into custody.

Jenifer Wagley, 39, a white mother of two, attended the rally with her young sons. In 2016 her son’s classmate was the victim of a murder which remains unsolved.

“We have to protect our babies,” she said. “I wanted my boys here so they understand the grief of communities without the privilege we enjoy.”

The rally was emceed by Houston activist Deric Muhammad.

“Stand with your fists in the air. We want this mother to know that we are here for her,” he said. “We all consider ourselves soldiers in Jazmine’s army.”

Speaker after speaker stepped to the mic and talked about racial violence. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said that investigators have found no concrete evidence of bias, in the absence of any clear reason for the shooting, many assume race to be the motive. That assumption is bolstered by the fact that a similar incident occurred in 2017 in the same area where Jazmine was killed.

“What are the odds that two black families were fired upon by a white male in a pickup truck within a one-year time span on the same block? We’ve got to call it what it is. Black people are being targeted in this country,” Muhammad told the Houston Chronicle.

Jazmine’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, arrived at the rally about 90 minutes in. Her comments began with tearful thanks to those who have been giving her support.

“I thank everybody that’s doing their thing for us,” she said. “There is going to be justice for Jazmine. … Thank y’all. Keep your heads up; with your support, my head goes higher.”

One chant in particular was repeated throughout the event: “Whose child? Our child!”

For the few hours of the rally, Jazmine Barnes was everyone’s child. Her photo appeared on signs and banners, chubby-cheeked, coy, with a ribbon in her hair. Her life was celebrated, her memory honored, and for many her death symbolized the longstanding problems of bigotry and violence against black members of the community.

“Jazmine is our child, neighbor, sister; she could have been someone’s mother some day,” rapper Paul Wall told the crowd. “This is our angel now, our angel of Houston. We cannot fold. We have to stand up.”