Fargo Human Relations Commission voices support for protests, calls for making Juneteenth a holiday
FARGO — The Fargo Human Relations Commission issued a statement Thursday, June 18, supporting public demonstrations as a tool for social change, and members voted unanimously to ask the Fargo City Commission to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.
Juneteenth, which falls on June 19, celebrates the day in 1865 when Gen. Gordon Granger read federal orders in the city of Galveston, Texas, proclaiming all slaves in the state to be free.
The Emancipation Proclamation had freed all slaves in the United States several years earlier, but Texas was the most remote of the slave states and the last to have the Emancipation Proclamation officially enforced.
At Thursday's meeting of the Human Relations Commission, Chairman Barry Nelson read a statement supportive of efforts to bring about change in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
"We firmly believe in the freedom of expression, the freedom to assemble, the right to protest. We stand in solidarity with those seeking justice and demanding change," Nelson said.
The gathering then became a town hall meeting, as people took turns sharing their perspectives on policing amid heightened racial tensions nationwide.
One who spoke up, Frederick Edwards, questioned why North Dakota hadn't joined with most states in recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday and not just a day of celebration akin to Halloween.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced in a tweet that Friday, June 19, 2020, would be recognized as "Juneteenth Celebration Day" in the state, though whether that would carry over into subsequent years was not clear. The same holds true for a declaration issued by the city of West Fargo, which declared Friday as "Juneteenth Celebration Day in West Fargo."
State Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, has said he plans to propose a bill in the next legislative session that recognizes Juneteenth as a holiday in North Dakota.
At the conclusion of Thursday's meeting, the Human Relations Commission voted unanimously to recommend to the City Commission that Juneteenth be observed as a holiday in Fargo.
Another speaker at Thursday's meeting, Faith Dixon, asked why Fargo police officers don't wear body cameras, something many large police departments around the country employ.
Fargo City Commissioner John Strand, the city commission's liaison on the Human Relations Commission, thanked the dozen or so community members who attended Thursday's meeting and suggested an ongoing conversation needs to take place on a number of subjects.
Those subjects, he said, should include what is happening locally when it comes to police and things like chokeholds, no-knock warrants and the use of force in general.
Strand also suggested that a study look at how conditions of release are set for people accused of wrongdoing and the impact those conditions have on the lives of people caught up in the court system.
Edwards said discussion can take a community only so far. At some point, action must happen if things are to improve for groups consistently treated differently than the majority population, he said.
Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, also called for action from the Human Relations Commission.
Referencing how minorities have been treated by law enforcement in the past, Buffalo cited an incident from 2017 in which a Fargo police officer arrested a man who was legally using a Native American sweat lodge in southwest Fargo.
In the incident, a police officer investigated what appeared to be a large fire and did not know about the sweat lodge, which had been in place about three or four years.
The officer questioned a man at the scene who expressed indignation because he believed he had a right to be there, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said at the time.
The man was ultimately arrested and charged with resisting a police officer, but the charge was dismissed the day after the arrest.
As a result of the incident, the Fargo Police Department said it would require officers to undergo cultural competency training.
Edwards said Thursday such training only scratches the surface in addressing unfairness minorities face.