Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19, marks the day enslaved African Americans in Texas learned of their emancipation in 1865. This year, it also marks the 23rd straight day of nationwide protests against the injustices Black people still face.
Outraged Americans in dozens of cities Friday are commemorating the day and calling for an end to racism and police brutality by taking to the streets from Los Angeles to Kansas City, Birmingham to Washington, D.C., and beyond. The Movement for Black Lives said various groups had organized hundreds of Juneteenth protests in at least 45 states.
Rev. Kirsten John Foy, whose organization The Arc of Justice is leading a coalition of Juneteenth marches and caravans in dozens of cities known as the Drive to Justice, said it was imperative to reclaim the narrative about the protests as Fox News and the president play up reports of destruction.
“The real violence was not the burning down of buildings,” Foy told HuffPost. “The real looting happened long before the uprisings in Minneapolis and other places around the country. The real lootings are systemic. The real looting wiped out trillions of dollars of wealth in the Black community. The real looting happens when innocent Black men are gunned down by police officers with no cause or justification.”
Foy’s partners in planning include Gwen Carr, whose son Eric Garner was killed by police in 2014; activist Tamika Mallory; the service employees union SEIU/32BJ and the Indigenous People’s Movement.
In addition to calling for the demilitarization and defunding of police, organizers at Friday’s events are passing out information on how to complete the 2020 census, register to vote and sign up for an absentee ballot. Foy, who once helped elect New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, says he’s the exact type of mayor who should be held accountable for reneging on his promises to the Black community and for letting the officer who choked Garner to death remain on the force for years.
“Specifically, we are demanding independent and thorough investigations of violent police officers,” Carr wrote in an op-ed for The New York Daily News. “The public cannot trust the outcomes of investigations into police-involved deaths when they are conducted by the same departments that employ these officers, and the same local prosecutors who depend on their work.”
Garner’s mother is scheduled to speak to Juneteenth protesters in Washington, D.C., alongside the loved ones of two other Black men killed by New York City police, Drive to Justice organizers told HuffPost.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is among those scheduled to speak in New York City.
Players from the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics also joined protesters on Friday. Wizards guard Bradley Beal addressed the crowd, sharing the story of a police officer pulling him over while he was driving with his family. “‘What if I fucked up your Monday and put you on a headline and arrest you right now?’” Beal recounted the cop telling him.
Outside San Francisco City Hall, hundreds listened to rallying cries from Gwen Woods, the mother of a Black man, Mario Woods, shot dead by police in 2015.
“All lives do matter, but it doesn’t matter until Black lives matter,” she said, adding, “That white privilege ― please check yours.”
The weeks of protest follow the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. Video of the incident, which shows an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd gasps for air and says he can’t breathe, set off mass unrest. The protests have called on Americans to open their eyes to the disproportionate number of Black Americans killed by police.
There’s no question for Foy whether the protests are working.
“Look at Minneapolis, which dissolved their police department altogether,” he said of the city council vowing to take that step with a veto-proof majority. Look at New York, he continued, where the mayor just responded to pressure by disbanding the 600-person plainclothes anti-crime unit. “Anyone that says that protests have not had a tangible effect on policy are not looking at America today,” Foy said.
HuffPost has tracked dozens of changes taking place around the country in the wake of the protests, ranging from school districts cutting ties with police to networks canceling cop shows.
There’s also newfound support for making Juneteenth a national holiday. While the day has long been overlooked in school curriculums despite being widely celebrated in the Black community, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey found that 60% of Americans support making it a national holiday.
Meanwhile, labor unions commemorated Juneteenth with work stoppages. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union chapters along the West Coast organized protests and said their members will not handle cargo on Friday in an act of solidarity with all those protesting. The United Auto Workers also called on all of its members to stop working at 8:46 a.m. for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to reflect the amount of time the officer knelt on Floyd’s neck.
Joined by thousands protesting at the Oakland, California, port, civil rights icon Angela Davis cheered on the union’s work organizing the demonstrations. “You represent the potential and the power of the labor movement,” she told the crowd.
Standing alongside Davis was Michael Brown Sr., the father of Michael Brown Jr., the Black 18-year-old killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
Sarah Ruiz-Grossman contributed reporting.
This story will be updated throughout the day.