The Guardian • Issue #2059

Slaughter House Juneteenth

Photo: Fibonacci Blue – (CC BY 2.0).

Across the US multiple shootings marred the Juneteenth weekend, leaving thirteen dead and more than 100 wounded. In Chicago at least 70 people were shot, 13 fatally. In Baltimore six people were wounded. In Milwaukee six teenagers were shot and in St. Louis one child was killed and nine others injured at a party. Other shootings occurred in numerous other cities. Those responsible for the shootings have diverse backgrounds. Why was there so much violence on the national holiday?

Juneteenth, aka the 19th of June commemorates the end of slavery on 19th June 1865, at the end of the Civil War. At its hub is the island of Galveston, where Union General Gordon Granger read out Order No. 3, freeing 250,000 people in Texas from the evils of slavery, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Today Juneteenth is a US federal holiday in twenty-eight states and Washington DC. More than twenty states do not recognise the holiday.

On 19th June 2023, Jan Schakowsky, a congressman from Illinois said of Juneteenth, “Today marks 158 years since the day the last group of enslaved Black people in the United States learned they were free. I am proud to have been able to vote to make this important day a federal holiday, and to see President Biden sign it into law in 2021. … Despite the progress we have made, Black Americans are bound by the intergenerational trauma of slavery, systemic racism, and right-wing extremist attacks. The inequities continue to play out in our health, education, and justice systems.”

St Louis Mayor, Tishaura Jones, told CNN, “My heart goes out to all of the families in pain today. All those attending will carry with them the scars, physical and mental, from the gun violence that tore into their lives.”

Earlier, on 13th June, the Department of Homeland Security had issued a nationwide alert that Juneteenth would likely witness numerous White Supremacist attacks, after online website posts called for widespread violent attacks against Black events, businesses, institutions, and those individuals who supported the holiday. The Buffalo Massacre, by the white domestic terrorist Payton Gendron, would inspire other White Supremacists to commit acts of violence. “We assess that reactions to the [14th May] attack in Buffalo, New York, from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) who believe in the superiority of the white race likely will drive a heightened threat to traditional RMVE targets – including African American and other minority communities – in the coming months.”

The Deputy Attorney General, Lisa Monaco, spoke on the threat, “The intelligence community has assessed that the most lethal domestic terrorism threat is posed by racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”

On 15th June, the Justice Department formally charged Gendron with twenty-six counts of federal hate crimes and firearms offenses. His 19th birthday was on 20th June.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “[We] fully recognise the threat that hatred and violent extremism pose to the safety of the American people and American democracy. We will be relentless in our efforts to combat hate crimes, to support the communities terrorised by them, and to hold accountable those who perpetrate them.”

The US Attorney’s Office held its second United Against Hate event in Missoula, Montana on 16th June, with a meeting of federal and local law enforcement representatives and members of the LGBTQI+ community.

The election of president Donald Trump in 2016 saw the alt-right gain prominence in the US political scene. Their extreme right-wing views have become increasingly mainstream, a result of the long history of racism, white supremacy, and white nationalism in the country.

Three years later, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported a marked increase in white nationalist groups, with a 55 per cent increase from 2017. In 2022 the Anti-Defamation League annual assessment of propaganda activity showed that white supremacy propaganda distribution and events had increased by 38 per cent across the US, with a 61 per cent increase in Texas. The report recorded 6751 incidents, 527 of them from Texas. At least fifty different White Supremacist groups and networks distributed propaganda, with three responsible for 93 per cent of the activity: Patriot Front, Goyim Defense League, and White Lives Matter. The Patriot Front was responsible for 80 per cent of the distributions.

The National Urban League report, “State of Black America” (April 2023), gives details of the present high level of white supremacy hate crimes, extremism and racism occurring across America. There are no signs that hate crimes are abating.

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