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Protesters march through lower Manhattan over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police on June 19, 2020. (Photo: Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images)

Racial Justice and Transformative Social Change Demanded in Juneteenth Commemorations Across US

"Today we honor Black excellence. Black innovation. Black history. Black futures. Black joy. Black brilliance."

Eoin Higgins

Tens of thousands of Americans filled city streets around the country Friday for Juneteenth, the celebratory holiday marking emancipation, as the nationwide protest movement in support of Black lives continued into its fourth week.

"Today we honor Black excellence. Black innovation. Black history. Black futures. Black joy. Black brilliance," tweeted Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who called in an opinion piece published Friday to make the day a national holiday. 

Tensions around race and policing in the U.S. exploded May 25 when George Floyd was killed by four Minneapolis police officers. The ongoing protest movement sparked by his death has transfixed the nation and led to a surging demand to transform how policing is done in the U.S. and to address the underlying racism and economic inequality that remains pervasive across the country.

As the Guardian explained:

Increased awareness of the holiday comes amid growing calls for profound change to tackle systemic racism in American society which impacts every sphere of life for black and brown people including education, housing, voting rights, health, policing, environmental justice, incarceration, and economic inequity.

The killing of Rayshard Brooks by three Atlanta police officers last weekend set off a fresh round of anger in the Southern city. Protester Jeremiah Parks, 27, told Reuters he was demonstrating out of a need to ensure the work of the Civil Rights Movement continued. 

"Civil rights isn't over," said Parks. "We still feel the pain of slavery. It's not healed, and won't be until we're treated the same."

As Common Dreams reported, people around the country have used the celebration as a vehicle to promote social change, beginning the morning in Louisville, Kentucky by waking up Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at 6am and calling for justice for Breonna Taylor and continuing as longshoremen up and down the West Coast held a work stoppage in support of Black Lives Matter. 

Protesters showed up in force in Oakland. 

A large crowd winded through Chicago streets.

In New York, the turnout was hard to explain in words, said journalist Joshua Potash. 

Outspoken leftist Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle shared a video of members of the city's sports teams marching together. 

In her column calling for making Juneteenth a federal holiday, Pressley emphasized the celebratory nature of the day and the necessity of social justice and equality in making a better world.

"I believe that none of us are free until all of us are free," wrote Pressley. "I believe in the power of our humanity, and in our ability to continue the movement for healing and change. I believe that, together, we will achieve progress and find justice for our community, because the power of this movement is beyond measure."


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