KENT, Ohio — The U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation Tuesday establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday to commemorate the day on June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned they were free—2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
This weekend, several events are happening in Northeast Ohio to recognize the true end of slavery in the U.S.
However, Kent Police announced Friday there is a flyer circulating on social media and reports of a Juneteenth celebration at Plum Creek Park on Saturday. That gathering is unauthorized and will not be allowed, police said, as the city temporarily closes the park Saturday to all guests.
Lt. Mike Lewis with Kent Police explained to News 5 the decision comes after a party similarly advertised as a Juneteenth celebration occurred in 2020 and left the park severely damaged.
“We were totally caught by surprise,” Lewis said. “Things got out of hand very quickly."
Pictures captured by Kent Police last year show garbage littered throughout the park, skid marks from cars driving on the grass and damage done to the bathrooms. Lewis said the department estimated that between 800 and 1,000 people showed up unannounced at the park.
“A lot of alcohol consumption, open containers, underage drinking, drug use was very blatant, a lot of litter and the aftermath was just absolutely terrible,” he said.
As a result, the police department, along with the city, made the decision to close Plum Creek Park temporarily after what they had heard discussed on social media about Saturday’s event, many from out-of-towners from as far as Dayton and Cincinnati.
“They’re talking about over-consumption, blatant drug use,” Lt. Lewis said. “No one is discussing anything genuinely related to Juneteenth. We believe the majority were from out of town.”
One person who planned on attending the celebration shared this statement with News 5:
“This is unfortunately more of the same from an institution that has continually harassed my community on and around campus and the city of Kent,” he said. “It is sad that they waited until the day before to address an event meant for celebration. I would like to know what actions Kent Police will take in 2 weeks when the 4th of July weekend occurs.”
News 5 asked Kent Police about the concern and the comparison between the two federal holidays.
“We’re talking about totally different things and you can ask the residents of the city of Kent and the people who live in the south end if this genuinely has something to do with Juneteenth celebration or if this is just another reason to party in the city of Kent,” Lt. Lewis answered.
Doria Daniels serves as the president of the Historic South End Neighborhood Association and she doesn’t see this closure as an attack on the newly observed federal holiday.
“This was an opportunity to party,” she said. “Juneteenth means something to people. Are you having any speakers? Are you having any events? Are you having any activities? When you look at the flyer, it only says, ‘Party 4 p.m.- ?’ That was a dead giveaway to me.”
Many of the pavilions had already been reserved for Saturday by people who went through the proper channels for the space. With the park closed, Lt. Lewis said they have all been notified that they’ll have to look elsewhere for a place to celebrate.
“We just don’t have the means to keep everyone safe,” he said. “It’s a matter of public safety and it’s a matter of protecting the property of our city park.”
The park is set to reopen on Sunday.
News 5 reached out to several people close to the organization of this advertised Juneteenth event. They are aware of our request for comment and have not formally responded.