It will be a Juneteenthless June for Berkeley residents this year, after what some event organizers said was a myriad of restrictions imposed by city officials just months before the big weekend of the 22-year-old tradition.
City officials said they reached an agreement with event organizers to have the festival on a different day next year, after the Berkeley Police Department complained its officers did not want to patrol the city’s streets on Father’s Day—which falls on every third Sunday in June, the same day on which Juneteenth has typically been celebrated.
In addition to the conflict with Father’s Day, city officials also cited safety, location and organizational concerns for saying they would not approve a festival permit this year. Organizers promise that the Berkeley festival, possibly the biggest Juneteenth celebration in the Bay Area, will be back next year.
Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, has its roots in Galveston, Texas, where it was observed as the African American Emanci-pation Day on June 19, 1865.
“The Berkeley police wanted to change the date, since they
didn’t have enough officers for Father’s Day,” said Berkeley Juneteenth Association, Inc. Chair Sam Dyke.
“Our department has a very large number of family-oriented officers,” said Berkeley police spokesperson Andrew Frankel. “Our preference was that it be held on a day other than Father’s Day as an event of that magnitude requires a large number of police resources.”
However, some board members were adamant that the festival should be continued to be held on Father’s Day.
“I am sympathetic with BPD’s situation, but we shouldn’t do away with a tradition,” said longtime committee member Dolores Edwards. “I think we should raise money for private security officers who will patrol the festival that day.”
According to the committee’s co-president Gerald Baptiste Jr., city officials also had a problem with the festival’s Adeline Street location and its popular youth stage, which draws more than 5,000 kids from all over the Bay Area.
Baptiste said the city had told the Berkeley Juneteenth Association it would not get a permit for the festival this year if they held it on June 15—Father’s Day—at the Adeline Street corridor.
“We had an agreement with them that the festival would be held on any other day but Father’s Day because of the reason the police department gave,” the city’s former Special Events Coordinator Manuel Hector told the Planet Monday. “The event organizations have not been very good at managing their stage, and there have been unauthorized and off-schedule acts. So we told them to hire an experienced stage manager for their stages.”
Baptiste said city officials had expressed concerns about the festival over the last three years, and the Berkeley Police Department had complained to the board about the youth stage last year.
“Sometime in April or May last year, the city manager’s office asked us for a schedule of events and a complete list of participants,” he said. “After the event Hector sent us an e-mail saying that the schedule was skewed and that some young people who were not on the program had appeared on stage.”
Baptiste said although a couple of people had appeared on stage in spite of not being on the program, there hadn’t been any problems.
“Any event will have things a bit off time,” he said. “I take great pride in saying that the activities were superb. But for the City of Berkeley to tell us to have professionals and to make suggestions was a severe violation of our rights. It’s not in their purview to come and tell us who we need to hire.”
Edwards said she was disappointed that Berkeley officials were not more enthusiastic about the youth stage.
“Berkeley police complained to us that kids from other neighborhoods come to the festival and create problems,” she said. “If there is an issue in Berkeley on that day they blame it on the festival. We try to give kids their own music, their own stage and try to keep the stage clean. We allow rap, but we don’t allow rap with cussing. We want to include the whole family and give these kids a platform to showcase their talents.”
She added youth stage performers had to audition a month in advance to qualify.
“We select 20 people who have to demonstrate that their acts are family oriented,” she said. “Some of them look a bit intimidating, but since we offer them their own stage and their own production, they behave very well. They are just kids out on a Sunday to have fun.”
Juneteenth’s youth stages have included performances by groups such as Youth Uprising and the Kanye Project, hopscotch and basketball tournaments, and talks by young-adult counselors.
“We’ve let the young people run their programs,” Dyke said. “We can’t pick their music, so we give them the freedom to do it. Sometimes it does create a problem with adults, but we have tried to keep it clean.”
According to Baptiste, the city also sent the board a letter in early January informing them to relocate from Adeline Street and hold the festival on a different date.
“We were already in the process of addressing a new youth stage, and this letter gave our situation a brand new twist,” he said. “Although a new venue would prove extremely challenging for us, we looked at the different options provided by the city, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Park and Cesar Chavez Park.”
When both locations seemed unsuitable for holding the festival, the board decided to stick with the Adeline Street location.
“When we contacted the city manager’s office with this proposal, they refused to issue us a permit,” Baptiste said. “However, at a later meeting, the City of Berkeley said they had never told us they would not issue us a permit, and they would go ahead and issue us a permit for Adeline Street next year.”
Dyke, the festival chair, said board members thought it would be unfair to move the festival, which has been held at Adeline Street for the last 22 years, to a different place.
Hector said the city had not imposed relocation on the committee.
“We suggested, that if they could not manage the crowds on Adeline Street, they could relocate to a different venue,” he said.
“We negotiated with the city,” Dyke said. “But the whole thing took so long that the board decided not to have the festival this year. It’s disappointing, but in view of all the concerns, we agreed that’s the best thing to do.”
Dyke said 250 vendors who had already registered for the now-canceled festival had been issued refunds.
“We could have done it last minute, but we couldn’t have done it well,” he said.