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In George Floyd's hometown, an election protest season ends

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© Reuters. Texans come in large numbers for the early voting in Houston

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Brad Brooks

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Dexter Faircloth was walking the streets of Houston's Third Ward, the historic black neighborhood where he was born and raised, shouting greetings and asking an urgent question.

"You vote ?! Do you?" The 35-year-old Faircloth repeatedly yelled at people who smiled when they recognized him as he was out exploring the area last weekend.

Faircloth, a corporate trainer, says he's always been an advocate for his community. That role became more pressing, however, when his friend and native African American George Floyd of the Third Ward died in May after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The smoldering rage of summer and the demand for justice that Floyd's death sparked has turned into a huge turnout for black Americans in some parts of the country. This is especially true of the third division, where hopes for change have fueled many people in the final days of the race between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden.

According to the Harris County Clerk's Office, the number of early votes at the three polling stations in the third division has increased more than 650% compared to 2016.

"Look, man. Voting isn't the end of all things. It's just the beginning," Faircloth said. "But we tell people, 'If you want to change something, you start to change things.'"

The Third Ward, a patchwork of old wooden houses, bodegas, and barbershops with hand-painted storefronts less than a mile from the skyscrapers of downtown Houston, is home to some of the city's crown jewels for African American culture, including Texas Southern University.

Floyd, who played college football and basketball, mentored neighborhood boys and encouraged them with his optimism, recalls Faircloth. Residents in the third section were furious at the brutal manner in which Floyd died, which was captured on video by a viewer.

"Watching the video was almost like watching slaves get beaten in real life," said Faircloth. "Instead of whips, the guns were a knee and a badge."

Third Division residents who knew Floyd best marched daily as protests against Black Lives Matter spread around the world. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo joined Reuters and told Reuters that he remembered Faircloth and other young black leaders from the Third Division who helped to keep the peace during protests.

Floyd's death was a tragic reminder that the police are not where they should be, Acevedo said. He recalls telling residents of Third Ward and others in Houston that there is no one way to fix this problem. "We told people that it was really important that they not just take to the streets, but that they vote during the elections," he said.

"VOTE FOR GEORGE"

Voters Reuters spoke to in and around the third district said they not only emerged more politically active from this summer's protests but were also confident that their voices could be heard.

"It feels like we are in a new era of civil rights," said J.D. Fontenot, a pharmacy student at Texas Southern University.

The world he and other young minorities are starting to shape feels like a reflection of the days of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, he said, and voting is a first step.

"The fact that our vote is directly related to black freedom in America is on people's minds right now," Fontenot said.

Such is the tension between blacks and whites.

"The racial injustice we are currently seeing, which was subliminal but is now openly being shared, makes it clear to the black community that we need to come out and vote," said 53-year-old day carer Veronica McClendon, who was born and raised in nearby Fifth Ward .

Faircloth and two other members of the Alpha Phi Alpha Black fraternity – Carlos Pinkerton and Sheldon Hadnot – advertised door-to-door in the third district last weekend.

When they saw Arnetta Taylor outside their house, they didn't take no for an answer. They allayed concerns about a missing voter registration card, explained other types of ID she could use, and pledged to vote in the elections.

"Take my number and call me on Monday to make sure I voted! I'm 46 years old and have never voted in my life, but I will now," said Taylor.

She was aware of her motivation.

"We are voting for George," she said. "We are also voting for Breonna Taylor. We are voting for many blacks who have been killed this way."

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Steven Gregory