The Juneteenth celebration planned for Friday evening in Gonzales at Confederate Square turned into a march to City Hall where numerous speakers talked about unity and racial injustice, calling on people of all races and colors to come together.
“I’m more than pleased with the turnout but I wish there were some more, but this is a good start,” said Quincy Johnson.
The event started at Confederate Square where law enforcement had taped off the Confederate monument and had a large presence in anticipation of potential trouble. A social media firestorm that brewed in the last week resulted in the group This is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF) coming out with open carry guns to defend the monument.
TITFF President Brandon Burkhart and Open Carry Texas leader David Amad made it clear to their group that they were on the same side as the local Juneteenth organizers. They said the event wasn’t about the monument and neither group wants it taken down. Burkhart said there was concern that outside groups might try to turn the peaceful event into a riot.
That never happened. The TITFF group found itself with little to do when, after opening prayers, the Juneteenth celebrators marched to City Hall where everything was set up for the event.
“God does not give us in our vocabulary permission to hate each other,” Jesse Elizondo, pastor at Two Rivers Baptist Church, said before saying a prayer.
Outside City Hall numerous speakers talked about the social injustice that African Americans and all people of color have experienced. It was their hope that real change could come following the events sparked by the death of George Floyd by white police officers in Minnesota.
Johnson was one of the first speakers and asked for equal treatment.
“We want to be treated just like you’re treated,” he said. “We want to be treated the same, not better, and certainly not worse.”
He directed many of his remarks to law enforcement.
“For our law enforcement here, we ask that you police yourselves. It’s not up to us… We want to be protected and served like everyone else,” he said.
“We don’t want our children to be considered a threat just because of the color of their skin,” he added.
Joe White, one of the event organizers, said relationships need to be built between law enforcement and the community.
“Why don’t we know their names?” he asked. “These are good people, too… We’ve got to come together.”
Willie McCook took the microphone next.
“It’s not about black and white, it’s about right and wrong,” he said.
He then directed his comments to the police in the audience, including Police Chief Tim Crow and Sheriff Matthew Atkinson.
“To the sheriffs and police chiefs of America, your men are killing our people in the streets… Accountability and reckoning are upon you. Clean your house of bad officers,” he said.
He noted that it was a two-way street.
“For blacks too, where is your accountability and reckoning?”
“If you’ve got hate in your heart, get rid of it,” commented Gilda Hunt.
Mayor Connie Kacir was called up to speak. She called this “day of remembrance and celebration.”
Marcus Roberts spoke about the children.
“Think about their future and how they see themselves,” he said.
“It’s your responsibility, this community, to breathe life into them … show them they can be more,” he added.
He then called on people to take ownership of their part of the problem.
“There’s been too much division. When are you going to be willing to put an end to it? Be the difference to make a difference… People won’t know the Gonzales that you know, they’ll know the Gonzales that you create.”
Chief Crow was asked to speak as well.
“I hear you and I hear what you are saying,” he said. “We’re going to continue to improve. We’re going to do a better job to get to know you.”
A.J. Irwin, who helped organize the event, noted that “Facebook exploded with drama.”
He said people need to set aside their anger and come together.
“This is about us coming together as one race, the human race,” he said. “It’s amazing what can happen when we get together.”