On June 19, 1865, enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, were read federal orders declaring the end of slavery, making them one of the last Black American communities to learn of their emancipation. In the 155 years since, Juneteenth has become a celebration of freedom for Black communities across the country.
This year, at the height of a global pandemic and uprisings around police brutality—both of which have disproportionately impacted Black people—the national organization Movement 4 Black Lives is using the holiday as an opportunity to mobilize and articulate a future that is marked by even more liberation.
“We intend to continue to advocate for real solutions, to connect those real solutions to local communities,” said Jessica Byrd, an organizer for the Movement 4 Black Lives Electoral Justice Project in a press release, “and we will not let up until the budgets of our federal government, our state government, and our city government matches the requirement of what it takes to keep Black people alive in this country.”
The campaign, SixNineteen, will launch this Friday, June 19, and take place over the course of the weekend, with actions occurring online as well as in the streets. SixNineteen will be anchored in three core demands: defunding the police, investing in Black communities by funding community-based resources, and calling for the resignation of President Donald Trump.
“We’re not just asking for the floor, we’re asking for the ceiling”
SixNineteen will launch less than two weeks after federal legislation addressing police violence was introduced by congressional Democrats. The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 aims to increase police accountability; implement more uniform standards for best practices, training, and data collection; ban chokeholds; reform police use-of-force standards; and make lynching a federal hate crime.
However, organizers say that these national standards are not enough and need to be complemented with dramatic reinvestments at the federal, state, and local levels.
“National standards mean that there is a baseline of defending Black lives, but we’re not just asking for the floor, we’re asking for the ceiling,” said Byrd. “To defend Black life means that not one person is killed senselessly by their government or a city official. It is not enough to say we shouldn’t be murdered … murder is already illegal in this country. What we want is for people to say we defend Black life because we want to celebrate you in the living.”
That celebration in the living can be achieved, organizers say, through the reinvestment of the $100 billion spent annually on policing into community-based resources. Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, a member of the Movement 4 Black Lives leadership team and co-executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee, said in a press statement that those resources look like “living wage jobs, education, income support, health care, and housing—and community-based responses that effectively prevent and respond to harm, conflict, and need, instead of perpetrating more violence.”
Organizers named three pieces of legislation addressing various aspects of the justice system as an alternative to the Justice in Policing Act. The People’s Justice Guarantee, first introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley in November 2019, provided for extensive shifts in criminal justice practices and called for several police reforms such as abolishing the death penalty and legalization of marijuana. Recently introduced legislation from Rep. Nydia M. Velasquez would demilitarize the police by eliminating funding for the controversial 1033 program that provides state and local police forces with military-grade weaponry. Finally, proposed legislation from Pressley and Rep. Justin Amash would end qualified immunity for police officers.
“We believe that these represent the kinds of bold, comprehensive, and transformative changes people in the streets are calling for in this moment, and that are needed to defend Black lives from the violence of policing and sustain Black lives and communities who are bearing the brunt of a pandemic and economic crisis of unprecedented proportions,” said Gina Clayton-Johnson, executive director of the Essie Justice Group and a member of the Movement 4 Black Lives leadership team.
Across the country, organizers have seized on the call for “bold, comprehensive, and transformative changes” by taking the fight to local and state elected officials. Minnesota-based organizations Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective were calling for the city to “Defund the Police” long before a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council announced it would dissolve the police department and commit to public safety programs.
Organizations like Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) and the Black Organizing Project in Oakland are pushing for their respective school boards to end relationships with police. And while Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is participating in nationally televised conversations on race, her constituents were demanding to know why she did not follow recommendations from her first criminal justice task force. Under the hashtags #AyeKeisha and #MythoOfTheBlackMecca, JustGeorgia led a Twitter storm during the Sunday night CNN town hall on race to draw attention to criminal justice problems back in Bottoms’ hometown.
SixNineteen and beyond
Those interested in getting involved in SixNineteen actions either in Washington, D.C., or across the country can either find and join events featured on the campaign’s website or sign up to host their own. The official SixNineteen site also features more information about their three core demands and the principles that undergird their work.
While SixNineteen is focused on major coordinated actions during the Juneteenth weekend, organizers are adamant that their vision for freedom will only come about with sustained action, often mobilized at the local level. For those who are interested in better understanding what defunding the police means and how to build an organizing infrastructure in their own communities, Movement 4 Black Lives and Interrupting Criminalization released a toolkit for getting started.
Other potentially useful resources include an Abolish Policing toolkit from the Oakland-based Critical Resistance and the “Adventures in Digital Organizing with Mariame Kaba” episode of the Truthout podcast “Movement Memos,” hosted by Kelly Hayes. Kaba, a renowned prison abolitionist, recently wrote an op-ed in The New York Times which may prove instructive for those interested in better understanding the demands to both abolish and defund the police.
“Black people across this country are calling on policymakers to take bold action to divest funding from police departments and defend Black lives by investing in our survival and safety,” said Monifa Bandele, a member of the Movement for Black Lives Leadership Team and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, in an emailed statement.