Luca Kelley Nielsen
On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger led thousands of federal troops into Texas to announce that the American Civil War had ended and that all slaves were freed. Since then, that day has been referred to as “Juneteenth,” a holiday celebrating a major step in the elimination of slavery in the United States.
155 years later in Brookline community members and activists gathered around the Florida Ruffin Ridley School to protest racial inequalities, police brutality, white supremacy and the overfunding of local and national police. The protest, led by Zahriyannah Karakashin-Jones, included many speakers who discussed the problems with the police.
In recent months, many activists have advocated for the prosecution of police officers that committed crimes, most notably Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck and torso, but this protest called for systemic changes.
Karakashin-Jones started the protest outside of the Florida Ruffin Ridley School by talking about how communities are oblivious to the racial biases that occur in many police departments.
“This town has the responsibility to show how our police system is broken and guilty, not just locally, but at a national level,” Karakashin-Jones said. “The police do not care about Breonna Taylor, George Floyd or the hundreds of other black and brown people that have wrongfully died at the hands of the police.”
Like many other Black Lives Matter organizers, Karakashin-Jones explained the immediate benefits to defunding the local police department.
“I am calling for a 50 percent budget decrease for the Brookline Police Department because that money is being used for racial bias for the hundreds of officers they employ,” Karakashin-Jones said. “Those funds should go into a police oversight committee, affordable housing, our education system and much more.”
Emilia Morgan, another organizer of the protest and a member of Socialist Alternative, referenced the Minneapolis Police Department, which was responsible for the murder of George Floyd.
“Minneapolis created a task force in which they are conducting a long term investigation of their police department for systemic racism and racial biases,” Morgan said. “The problem is that the task force is working with the chief of police, which is very problematic and ironic.”
Morgan continued, explaining the importance and next steps for the formation of an investigative body for the Brookline Police Department.
“We should all demand a democratically run task force that would investigate our police department, which we are advocating for in each community around the country. What we are asking for is reasonable,” Morgan said.
Toiyah Shezter, the third protest organizer, expressed her priorities for the year and how the year will be remembered for the right reasons.
“2020 is not going to be remembered just because of COVID-19 and social distancing. 2020 is going to be the year we remember because of this resistance, and because of all the people that are calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others,” Shezter said.
Shezter went on to show the importance of the event and how Juneteenth now resonates with other racial topics beyond recognizing the end of slavery.
“We are out here today because today is Juneteenth and we are celebrating the end of slavery in Texas, but we should also focus on the horrific findings we have discovered of civil rights violations and racial oppression for black and brown people,” Shezter said.
Shezter and the other organizers of the protest then started marching towards the police station and public library. With hundreds of protesters supporting them and with constant chants and signs they voiced their demands and opinions to the entire town.
When the group convened at the library, they featured some more speakers who recounted their experiences with police brutality and the discriminatory treatment of African Americans in their communities.
One protester, Kate Selva, was appreciative of all the activism she has seen in recent months and how everyone supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement wants to see major changes. Selva created signs for protestors to support the mission.
“I wanted to come show my support to the Black Lives Matter community and make some signs for the people that did not have the time because this is a really important event,” Selva said. “Juneteenth should be a national holiday to celebrate the black community and hopefully, this event will make this happen among other topics and national issues.”
Hannah Artner, who has attended many Black Lives Matter protests all around the state, explained how a budget cut to all police departments could help other aspects of society like education, healthcare, and other social services.
“I think at the local level, we need that budget cut to the Brookline Police Department. In Boston, they will be voting on a smaller budget cut for their department,” Artner said. “I believe Brookline should prioritize cutting their police budget in town hall meetings and hopefully creating a task force made up of different community members that would investigate the police.”
Karakashin-Jones voiced her deepest thoughts about how the community should stand up for much-needed change to the police.
“It is our right and responsibility to protest how the police department is utilized and how much money, resources and power they have over us,” Karakashin-Jones said. “We have to defund the police department if we want to see any major systemic changes.”