Updated at 3:00 p.m. on Jan. 6.
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 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.
Just hours after the rally, officials from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office announced that 20-year-old Eric Black Jr., a black man, 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.
Authorities had previously described the suspect as a white man in his 40s, prompting many to believe the killing was racially motivated. Police said in the statement Sunday that they do not think Jazmine’s family was the intended target and that they may have been shot at “as a result of mistaken identity.”
Jenifer Wagley, 39, a white mother of two, attended the Saturday rally with her young sons. In 2016 her son’s classmate was the victim of a murder which remains unsolved.
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 had found no concrete evidence of bias, and in the absence of any clear reason for the shooting, many assumed race to be the motive. That assumption was 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, when the description of the killer was still that of a white man.
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.”