NORWALK, Conn. – The Juneteenth rally scheduled for Friday in Veterans Park has been scaled back to a protest due to concerns about COVID-19, according to one of its organizers.
“It is no longer an event,” 5iveFingaz said.
City leaders on both sides of the aisle opposed the rally in the park. It wasn’t sponsored or sanctioned by the City, Mayor Harry Rilling said Wednesday.
“Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States,” Juneteenth.com states. Dating to 1865, it is celebrated on June 19.
Fliers advertising a Norwalk rally have been circulating, advertising a peaceful event beginning at 5 p.m. Friday in Veterans Park.
“The City of Norwalk cannot issue a permit for the event as the number of anticipated participants would be in violation of the Governor’s Executive Orders. The event organizers did not apply for a permit nor did they provide the required insurance rider,” Rilling said in an email.
He continued, “We recognize the importance of the Juneteenth Holiday and what its’ significance is to our country. However, we are in the midst of a pandemic that has resulted in more than 110,000 deaths in our country. Many states having relaxed restrictions and now reopening, are seeing significant spikes in new cases.”
Common Council leaders discussed the planned celebration and agreed “that it would serve no purpose to try to prevent the gathering as such an act could lead to a physical confrontation. No one wants that,” Council member Thomas Keegan (R-District D) is quoted as saying in a Republican Town Committee email.
“I have asked individuals involved in the event to not hold it at this time. I have told them they are putting the health and safety of many people in jeopardy,” Rilling said.
Jalin Sead, a Norwalk activist, said recently that the Juneteenth celebration at Veterans Park would highlight black businesses.
“I think a lot of people will show up,” he said Wednesday afternoon. He predicted it would be peaceful and “great.”
Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik also said, “we expect the protest to be peaceful based on the description from the organizers and the schedule of events etc.”
5iveFingaz, a Norwalk artist, said this in a late evening email:
“First and foremost, the overarching goal of the Art of Justice ‘Rally’ / Protest is ‘to uplift the community in honor of Juneteenth and encourage a call to action for justice and equity.
“It is not lost on us with the concerns and risk of a pandemic, we are taking the effective precautions to keep our community safe while also elevating the voices of the marginalized.
“I have assembled a Social Justice team called ‘The AOJ’ (The Art of Justice) consisting of 6/7 young adults that are extremely passionate about social justice.
“I have discussed the below concerns with them and they have decided to move Forward with just the protest (Not the event portion). It is no longer an event. It is not our intention to disobey the law but as mentioned anyone has the right to protest.
“The AOJ will scale it back to a simple June 19th protest. There have been several protests in the past several of weeks in Norwalk as well as Fairfield County in general so there shouldn’t be a problem with this one on Friday.
“Our original intentions were to keep the people involved safe and away from the roads and to avoid highway shut downs.
“We have reached out the performers and musicians and have made them aware of the changes.”
Protestors will march to the police station, he said. “I think their original concern was the number of people that may show up. I have since step back and not publicized it as originally planned as to not have too large of crowd.”