'It has been a life-altering experience to actually come out and support a community that truly is hurting,' Art Acevedo tells PEOPLE

By Wendy Grossman Kantor
June 04, 2020 11:36 AM
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MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty

Houston’s Chief of Police Art Acevedo told protestors on Saturday that he would march with them until his feet bled.

“I wish people that don’t see the pain, don’t hear the pain, don’t understand the anger – the righteous anger -- of so many people of color, I wish they could walk with me with the protestors. So they can hear with their own ears, and see with their own eyes, the deep pain that especially African American communities are feeling,” says Acevedo, 55, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

“...Just watching that video [of George Floyd's killing], if you don’t have indignation, if you try to justify what happened to George Floyd in any manner, then you are the problem. It has been a life-altering experience to actually come out and support a community that truly is hurting.”

On Saturday, Acevedo spent three and a half hours marching with protestors. When the protest’s organizer spontaneously decided to continue, Acevedo kept going too.

"I told him, ‘We will march, we will protest until we can march no more, until our feet are bleeding,’” Acevedo tells PEOPLE. “I said, ‘Let’s go.’”

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Acevedo recalls anger and tension when the police formed a skirmish line to prevent protestors from climbing onto the freeway. Acevedo wants everyone to exercise their First Amendment rights, but he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.

“I’m responsible for them. The police department is responsible for the safety of the people protesting,” Acevedo says. “People were angry. There was a lot of yelling. ….  I had to get through the crowd. I said, ‘Wait a minute, we are going to let you march anywhere you want to march. I will keep that promise. But you have to let me keep you safe."

For more on George Floyd's death and the nation's response to it, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up the current issue, on newsstands now.

When an angry crowd joined Saturday’s protest throwing water bottles and setting off firecrackers, Acevedo was proud to watch the people he was marching alongside refuse to let the peaceful protest change directions.

“I will take these memories with me to the grave,” he says. “I’m proud to have been there.”

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

•Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

•National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.