Residents gather to protect local mall amid social media riot threats
Residents took it upon themselves to help protect the Killeen Mall Tuesday after social media threats of rioting and looting circulated.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Killeen police said, "A social media threat was received that suggested a raid that would take place at the Killeen Mall [Tuesday]. Out of concern for the safety of their customers and employees, the Killeen Mall management decided to close the mall today. We are following up on leads regarding this threat. If you observe suspicious activity, please call 911."
After President Donald Trump blamed antifa activists for the violence that has erupted over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other police killings of blacks, social media were rife with false rumors the group is planning to send agitators to wreak havoc on smaller cities.
Twitter, in fact, removed a tweet that said antifa was planning to “move into residential areas” and “white neighborhoods,” but not before it was shared widely and cited in online news articles.
Residents, Reshard Hicks and Jonathan Hildner, who organized peaceful protests over the weekend in Killeen, say they didn’t see the threats themselves, but the alert from police led them to step up, saying that riots, looting or destruction of property would take away from the progress that was made in the city Sunday.
"We showed everybody that Killeen can do something positive and not be destructive," Hicks said.
"To have somebody come in and ruin all that for us would have been very counter intuitive to what we are trying to accomplish" Hicks said.
"If people are talking about endangering our businesses or breaking businesses and steering away from what was done on Sunday, then it’s our job to make sure we protect that," Hildman said.
With a few hours’ notice, the two gathered around 75 people to stand guard outside the mall, they say people were stations at all entrances to the mall and its parking lot.
"I want to stress that we never wanted things to get violent," Hildman said.
"We were there to hopefully embrace whoever may have been coming to do harm, and help them understand why doing things our way was better for everyone."
There were no reports of rioting or looting overnight, police said.
In response to the police warning, the operators of other businesses blocked entrances and even boarded up windows and doors.
Sally Beauty Store just outside the mall had plywood installed outside all its front windows and doors,
Lowe's was closed early with materials blocking its entrances and Walmart was reportedly blocking its entrances as well, though none of the businesses returned calls for information about closing early or boarding up as of Wednesday evening.
The mall, Walmart and Lowe’s were all open for business Wednesday, but Sally remained boarded up.