A large crowd of people gathered in front of the Athens County Courthouse Friday afternoon to protest against recent killings of African-Americans by police across the country and demonstrate in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
The event was held on June 19 specifically in recognition of Juneteenth, an annual holiday that marks the day from 1865 that slaves were told that they were free in Texas.
This was more than two years after former President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official in 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order, according to the Juneteenth Worldwide Celebration organization.
Juneteenth has been celebrated for years; this year it has gained extra attention from political figures, some of whom are pushing for the holiday to be federally recognized.
The Athens demonstrators, which consisted of community members and Ohio University students, held signs largely advocating for equal treatment of Black people by police and society as whole.
One sign read “My skin is not a threat,” held by event co-organizer Brooklyn Stallworth. Stallworth organized other BLM demonstrations this month. Stallworth stood in front of the courthouse in the street with her sign.
Another sign read “Unapologetically pro-Black. White Silence Is Violence. Legalize Being Black. Say Their Names. Enough Is Enough. Police the Police. Demand Justice.” Yet another sign stated “A system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect.”
At the event, some chanted “say their names,” in reference to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, who were all killed this year. Taylor, in her own home in Louisville by police officers. Arbery, while jogging in Georgia. Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly 8 minutes.
Others shouted “Justice for Floyd” or “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” And of course, others simply chanted “black lives matter.”
A speaker of the event, who simply goes by Keshawn, nodded to his own experiences as a black man, dealing with racism in his hometown of Dayton and then also in Athens. He recalled times where he was followed at night, where groups of people would hurl racial slurs at him and threaten him with violence.
He also noted a sad reality: he’s often told his friends that if he were to go missing and his body were to be found somewhere, it wasn’t a death by suicide; rather, it would have been a murder.
“We’re fighting for our lives,” he said. Keshawn challenged attendees to “stand up and fight back” against racism: whether it be in conversations with people or legislatively.
Several cars driving passed the demonstration on Court Street honked their horns. Other cars held signs in support of the BLM movement as they drove by. Demonstrators marched around Court Street, College Street and back to the Athens County Courthouse, chanting and holding their signs.