Juneteenth festival to go on despite violence, organizers say

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG, TERRY COLLINS and DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: June 23, 2008 - 11:59 PM

Supporters and officials will look for ways to prevent another such incident from occurring next year.

Supporters of Minneapolis' Juneteenth celebration vowed Monday to keep the tradition alive despite violence on Saturday that left three innocent bystanders with gunshot wounds and sent thousands of festival-goers fleeing.

Police say there was plenty of security at the event in Theodore Wirth Park -- at least 50 officers and agents from the city and park police combined -- and city officials say there's only so much they can control.

But event organizers and sponsors are taking a hard look at the festival.

"It is both sad and tragically ironic that such an event should be marred by violence," Mary Pargo, chairwoman of the Juneteenth board, said in a statement.

Officials from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, a key sponsor, say they support Pargo but want to talk to organizers, residents and police about the future of the festival, which commemorates the freeing of black slaves.

"We have a year to really work with people and talk about our strategies going forward," said Commissioner Mary Merrill Anderson. "This is too important an event to stop."

Shots end festival early

About 5:45 p.m. Saturday, a park police supervisor recognized several teens who are affiliated with a gang entering the festival east of Glenwood Avenue, said park police Lt. Robert Goodsell. The supervisor radioed other officers to keep an eye on the group.

The teens came face-to-face with another group of gang members at the intersection of Glenwood and Xerxes Avenues N. Words were exchanged. "Fight, fight!" several people yelled. Then came gunshots.

Three people were struck: a WCCO Radio employee's ankle was grazed by a bullet, a woman from U.S. Bank was shot in the leg and a third man, a gang member who wasn't the intended target, was also shot.

"The place turned into a madhouse," Goodsell said. "I'm shocked nobody was more seriously injured."

City Council Member Don Samuels said the otherwise "perfect" day was nearly ruined by the violence and it was a bitter disappointment for those who attended with a back-of-the-mind thought, "I hope nothing happens."

Vendors quickly shut their booths and the event ended prematurely. Authorities were left with a vague description of the shooter, who was about 250 feet from the victims.

Community leader Obie Kipper said he had a tough time explaining the shootings to his 10- and 8-year-old sons.

"They asked me, 'Why would someone want to wreck things?'" said Kipper, a district Minneapolis parks manager. "I told them those people were misguided, careless and callous who will eventually end up in jail someday."

The park police had 25 officers and agents at the event. Minneapolis police had 30 officers; another 20 were on their regular shifts.

The amount of officers would be comparable to an Aquatennial event, Goodsell said. "It's hard to stop somebody who wants to come into an event like this with a gun. You don't want teams of blue smothering people," he said.

The shootings are the first such incident in the festival's 23-year history, said Richard Mammen, director of community recreation services for the Park and Recreation Board.

But it isn't the first time violence has shattered the festival's celebratory mood.

In 2006, high school basketball star Brian Cole was shot and killed while standing with friends who had just left the festival. Police said he wasn't the intended target.

Memories of that shooting linger, said Teasha Reid, a board member of the Harrison Neighborhood Association. Organizers began planning for this year's event before last Thanksgiving, Reid said.

Dan Ness, marketing director for UCare, which has sponsored Juneteenth since the mid-1990s, said UCare will continue doing so but is eager to learn how safety can be improved.

Just what such measures might be is unclear.

"With the reason behind the celebration, we don't want to have people go through a metal detector," Goodsell said. "That would be ridiculous."

Reid suggested that more African-themed exhibits might help the kids fully realize the meaning of Juneteenth.

"I don't know how we encourage people to come back next year," Reid said. "We're going to try our hardest. I will be back. I hope others will, too."

cxiong@startribune.com • 612-673-4391 tcollins@startribune.com • 612-673-1790 dchanen@startribune.com • 612-673-4465

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters