FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Organizers of a peaceful march in the Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota, area on Friday to celebrate Juneteenth and denounce racial injustice said threats by city leaders and a federal prosecutor contributed to a low turnout, but promised there would be a better showing at a weekend protest.
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney on Thursday declared an emergency declaration to protect the city from potential violence at the march. Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley told reporters the feds may charge people accused in a May 30 protest that resulted in injuries to officers and damage in downtown Fargo.
Wess Philome, organizer of the community diversity group OneFargo and the leader of Friday’s event, told several hundred people who gathered first at a Fargo park and then at City Hall that Mahoney and Wrigley tried to sabotage their gathering. City Hall was closed for the day because Mahoney said many of the 240 people who work in the building feared for their safety.
“We would have had many more people here if not for a piece of crap declaration that attempted to silence our voice today,” Philome said from a gazebo at Island Park, which his group referred to as Justice Island. “When I look around, all I see is peaceful people. Am I right?”
Philome later added that many people were likely working and could not attend.
Mahoney attended the start of the march and was allowed to speak over the objections of Philome and other protesters, including one man who hollered, “What are you afraid of?” Philome said if civic officials “aren’t in alignment” with them, they should not talk at their events.
“I’ll make it quick,” Mahoney said before calming the crowd by announcing a proclamation that declared Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., a city holiday starting next year. “Yes, I do hear you. Yes, I do hear what’s going on with you. So do my commissioners. We are hearing. We are listening. Let’s make progress going forward.”
Philome also called on Republican Gov. Doug Burgum to declare Juneteenth a state holiday. Mike Nowatzki, the governor’s spokesman, said Burgum “clearly supports recognition of Juneteenth, as demonstrated by his signed proclamation, and he would certainly consider a bill to make it a holiday should the Legislature bring that forward.”
Later, in front of City Hall, Philome chastised Wrigley for his warning about federal charges against arrested protesters and said “if you’re going to throw the book at them, you better throw the book at us.” The half-hour gathering of chanting and dancing ended with the organizers of Saturday’s protest vowing to march on the county courthouse in Fargo.
OneFargo unveiled a list of demands at a June 5 protest, include the creation of local police oversight boards that would not include law enforcement, requiring officers to undergo cultural diversity training, stopping the surveillance of activists, and ending the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and certain other police tactics.
One of Friday’s participants, Kima Booker, blamed local officials and news outlets for scaring away people.
“There is just so much fear,” Booker said. “Even coming here today, I was wondering, is there really going to be all this stuff happening that was said in the media?”
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