FARGO — Promising to march until leaders pursue social reform, until Juneteenth becomes a state holiday, and until police are held accountable for their actions, protesters with OneFargo and Black Lives Matter marched on City Hall, and they danced.
"No justice, no peace. Prosecute the police." The chant turned into a rhythmic mantra while organizer Faith Dixon swayed back and forth. Some beat skateboards like drums. OneFargo organizer Wess Philome stood to the side — black liberation flag draped over his shoulders — and for the first time that day smiled as dozens danced while holding signs remembering George Floyd and calling for police reform.
"What happens when we show up, go home, and they don't get to change the narrative?" Philome said as protesters rallied Friday morning, June 19. "Our leaders have a false sense of belief that power is with them and not held by the people who elect them. They're supposed to be our megaphone and from what I'm seeing the community wants change."
"We are sick of Fargo not being completely inclusive," he continued.
Communication between city leaders and protest organizers has recently broken down because OneFargo organizers believe the city has been slow to act on promises made toward social and judicial reforms. The activists say a police probe into former deputy chief Todd Osmundson was inaccurate, and want the 18 people arrested on riot charges to be released and free from prosecution. They also want Mayor Tim Mahoney to sign a letter of intent.
Angered by an emergency declaration made yesterday by Mahoney, which shut down City Hall among other buildings, the crowd booed when Mahoney took the stage in Island Park. Organizers asked protesters what they thought before the mayor took the megaphone.
"He (Mahoney) shows up today like he's a part of the team, like he's an ally," Philome said. "Whose side is the mayor on?
"Thank you, mayor, you have to understand this is a tough crowd, but what you did yesterday was obnoxious," Dixon said.
"You disrespected us yesterday," someone in the crowd yelled.
"I am not a thug," someone in the crowd yelled. Recently, Fargo Police Chief David Todd said he regretted calling protesters who rioted on May 30 "thugs," and "domestic terrorists" in an email to area police chiefs and sheriffs.
"We are going to have respect," Dixon said to the crowd, who then quieted. "Thank you, mayor."
When Mahoney took the megaphone, his son, Dylan, 17, a senior at Davies High School, stood by him.
"We came by today to make a proclamation of Juneteenth; we came by because we as the city of Fargo and the city of Moorhead feel that's very important. We also came by because I've set up a meeting with OneFargo and with Black Lives Matter. We're meeting in City Hall, and we will discuss the issues that are important to all of you," Mahoney said.
"Yes, I do hear you, and so do my commissioners, we are listening, and let's make progress going forward," said Mahoney, who explained that the proclamation for Juneteenth will open the doors for the city to create Juneteenth as a city-wide holiday.
Despite the mayor's public attempts at reconciliation, protest organizers remain highly critical and doubt the sincerity of city leaders. When organizers called for 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence, Mahoney, his wife, and their son knelt on concrete.
"Think about how long that was, think about how uncomfortable that was, now think about George Floyd," Philome said after the minutes of silence.
During a June 17 interview, Mahoney said he is sometimes unsure of who the movement's leaders are, but Philome and Dixon are rising to the occasion, speaking powerfully before hundreds, sometimes thousands of people.
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The protest went without incident. However, a man in a car played heavy metal music loudly while protesters demonstrated at City Hall. When approached by reporters, he rolled up his window and said, "Just get away."
The same man and two others showed up at the parking lot of Island Park as protesters left for the day. One protester said the men had guns and approached him in the parking lot.
A reporter saw what appeared to be gun holsters. Police confirmed that officers spoke to the men and stood by the vehicle while marchers passed by.
"All this talk of us bringing guns, does he not understand that there are people in this community who are actually domestic terrorists?" Philome asked of Mahoney. "We were actually sent a picture of someone with an AR saying he'll be ready for us when we come."
Although city leaders said the emergency declaration was necessary to be able to access funds if needed, Barry Nelson of the Human Relations Commission said it was not required.
"I just believe it sends completely the wrong message," Nelson said. "We're talking about our citizens here. There needs to be open dialogue, even (on) the list of demands presented. So many are so doable — they're not even radical demands."
When the city or the state gets behind an issue, such as an oil crisis, governments can work fast, he said.
"We have precedents set where we've had urgent matters that were expedited," he said.
Juneteenth's protest march was peaceful and organizers have planned another protest march that will start near North Dakota State University and head to the Cass County Courthouse, among other places, on Saturday, Philome said.
"Tomorrow, I need everyone back here again, but not at Justice Island, there are beautiful things that happened there," Philome said. Justice Island is the name he's given to Island Park.
"People say we can't change the name of the park," Philome said. "Yes, we can."