Following a morning march, at least 100 Manhattan residents continued Juneteenth observations Friday night at City Park with a flashlight vigil for those killed by police nationwide.
Juneteenth commemorates the date when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced the emancipation of enslaved people in the state on June 19, 1865. Also known as Black Independence Day, the institution of slavery persisted in Union-held territory until the 13th amendment’s ratification that December.
Manhattan’s observation would have entered its 31st year if COVID-19 had not prompted the celebration’s cancellation. Amid nationwide activism following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, local Black Lives Matter organizers used the holiday to commemorate him and others who died at the hands of law enforcement officers — and call for change.
“This has to stop — no more,” says speaker Taneika Nicole. “We will no longer accept being treated as less than, we will no longer accept being treated as a threat because of this beautiful, luminous, glowing brown skin we are in. It ends today, right now. This is why we are here.”
Those in attendance heard John Legend’s Glory and sang along with the Black national anthem — Lift Every Voice and Sing — shared experiences of prejudice and racism, and held flashlights to the sky for 8 minutes and 46 seconds straight, the length of time Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck.
“Think about the length of time that you are holding this light,” says organizer Taneika Parks. “Anybody want to try to hold their breath and see how long they can do?”
Speakers included Parks and Nicole as well as Jaynae Cole, Tory Harris, Keiara Robinson, Keante Dillard, Emmiley Springfield and Ann Marie Kennedy. Also speaking was Manhattan MLK Committee Co-Chair Kevin Bryant, who contextualized the conversation around Manhattan. He noted Black folks are arrested at higher rates by Riley County police for marijuana despite similar usage rates.
“One in four — think about that now,” says Bryant. “If you’re walking around Black, you’re four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana. So we’ve asked that question, and you have to ask that question: how do we want to represent our community?”
The vigil ended with a prayer and song, but not before multiple speakers urged those in attendance not to turn a blind eye to racism — and to get out and vote for change.
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