FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) For many Americans, Independence Day isn't the usual July 4th, it's June 19th, also known as Juneteenth.
This is the annual holiday commemorating the final end of slavery in the United States, and has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s.
The holiday was celebrated virtually Friday in an event hosted by the Fairbanks Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
And on Saturday, several workshops were held, including a "We Are Done Dying" presentation focused on law enforcement injustices, and inequality towards people of color.
The NAACP political action committee chair, Robert Kinnard gave an overview of the number of black lives lost during the last generation.
“From slavery to the reconstruction era, to the civil rights movement, and here we are in 2020, we are doing the same protest, same marching, mothers are crying, children are dying,” Kinnard said. “I really just wanted to hone in on that message, like how many times do we have to go through this.”
Kinnard presented facts about what minorities and people of color have had to endure from law enforcement and government, including the reconstruction era where Jim Crow laws forced blacks and whites into segregation... some of those laws still active until 1965.
He talked about the rise and growth of the Ku Klux Klan.
Kinnard also told the story of "Black Wall Street" in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1921 this was the most prosperous African American community in the United States. After an alleged crime from a member of their community, white people refused to wait for the investigation and rioted with racial violence. Thirty-five city blocks went up in flames, 300 people died, and 800 were injured.
No white person was ever arrested and Black Wall Street never recovered.
Kinnard also talked about 14-year-old Emmit Till. The people who murdered him were not found guilty, but admitted to act later after they had the protection of double jeopardy.
While this may have seemed like a long time ago, Kinnard says there are still working lawmakers that where alive when this happened.
“Emmit Till was born in 1941, died in 1955. Mitch McConnell was born in 1942 and he is yet still serving, yet still alive.” Kinnard said. “I just want people to realize that some of our elected officials who hold office still were around and aware of the injustices and police brutality that had occurred even back then.”
Kinnard continued talking about racial injustice to present day saying these are only a few examples of black lives lost.
He quoted Will Smith as saying racism is not getting worse, it’s just getting filmed.
“It’s just being recorded, it’s just being videotaped.” Kinnard added. “People are just now being exposed to it on a different level because we have our iPhones, because we have our iPad, because we can go Facebook Live.”
The group went to an open discussion on police encounters.
Latissue Colbert says she had talked to her children about dealing with police and how it is different for black people. “My dad was a police officer, my brother was a police officer and to tell me about all the corrupted police officers, LAPD, Alaska State Troopers, there is corrupt people.” Cobert said.
“My dad left the police department because of the corruption. My brother left the Alaska State Troopers because of the dishonesty. It’s very sad, it happens in Fairbanks, it’s happening all over the world and it’s sad,” she added.
Alaska State Trooper Investigator Al Bell spoke up on the issue. “On behalf of Law Enforcement, I completely agree that it is racial profiling in our country, there is racial profiling in Fairbanks and everywhere else.” Bell said.
“I was black before I was anything else, I haven’t forgotten that. And there is also systematic racism in all the organizations around the county as well as AST. But I will say this, that AST is a little different than lower 48," he added.
Bell went on to speak about mutual respect.
“Whenever you (law enforcement) get an opportunity to thank a citizen and they help you out with any type of case or they were being cooperative, officers should thank them for being respectful.” Bell said.
“And I think it should go vice versa. Every time a cop does something, if they do something right, tell them thanks, tell them that he did a good job,” he added.
Alyssa Quintyn pushed back on the issue of officers expecting respect. “I have a job too, I don’t get thanked every day, I’m expected to do it every day and if I don’t do it right every day, then I don’t have a job. The same thing would go with police officers.” Quintyn said.
Quintyn went onto say police need different training. “Training, its mandatory training. It’s de-escalation. It’s cultural inclusion training so that there isn’t this bias when they come up to our window of constantly being mistreated so we have to be on a higher sense of decorum than the police officer that rolls up to our window… I don’t see as acceptable.” Quintyn said. “People are angry and people are angry justifiably because of a reason. Because they are seeing these things. And it is up to the good cops in our police department to call those things out, all the time, every time and that is not happening.”
Quintyn continued. “Even when we are respectful, even when we do comply, even when we do report, nothing happens and so people are angry. So there needs to be some accountability in that system and there needs to be some mandatory training in that system because that trust is not going to be bridged if that doesn’t happen.”
The discussion ended with the song and a prayer.
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