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NAACP President Gives Account of Alleged Harassment at Saturday’s Juneteenth Freedom Walk

SIOUX FALLS, SD (Dakota News Now) — Wednesday marks the federal holiday “Juneteenth,” the day in 1865 when the last slaves in the United States were freed.

On Monday, Dakota News Now learned details from witnesses and Sioux Falls police about Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration in Sioux Falls, when a bystander allegedly spat at the parade marshal.

It was a moment one witness says quickly escalated and quickly subsided during the late-morning Freedom Walk, the event that kicked off Juneteenth celebrations. Before the walk, Sioux Falls Juneteenth Grand Marshal Chet Jones — a former state senator who has been a community activist in the Sioux Falls area for more than 50 years — gave a speech about his life of overcoming racism.

Then, with about a quarter of a mile left in downtown Fawick Park, where the walk began and ended, a motorcyclist came riding alongside the nearly 100 pedestrians, making his way to the front, where Jones led the pack.

Langston Newton, president of the Sioux Falls chapter of the NAACP, was right behind Jones.

“All of a sudden you can hear him yelling obscenities, you can hear him talking out of frustration, but he was looking at us,” Newton said of the biker. “They were directed at us. He was weaving in and out of the bike lane, and then he got to the front, and he was saying names and saying things, and all of a sudden it was just he gestured to the front of the group. It looked like he tried to spit on us. So when that happened, obviously a lot of us were surprised.”

When the shock hit the group, Jones, their leader, kept walking, Newton said. The motorcyclist left.

“That was a testament to Chet,” Newton said. “He was so stoic, he was good tempered. I was talking to him and he just said, ‘Hey, I knew something – stuff like this was going to happen. So he was such a great example of what it looks like to exist in this space.”

Newton said Jones then calmly called Sioux Falls police on his cell phone, reporting the incident. Officers arrived quickly to find no one “causing trouble” and “no one flagged down any officers to report any trouble,” according to Sioux Falls Police Public Information Officer Sam Clemens in the daily police briefing since Monday morning.

Clemens said his department received a call Saturday about a man harassing people on the ride. Several officers were in the area but did not find anyone matching the description of the alleged harasser. There was nothing in the call about someone spitting.

“I’ve heard about it, but I think the victim in that case, if she wasn’t spat on, didn’t come forward to make a police report,” Clemens said, adding that officers were unable to reach the person who made the call – Newton said it was Jones – and that the investigation was ongoing.

Newton said he didn’t hear a racial slur coming from the biker, and he doesn’t know of anyone else who heard a racial slur.

Jones declined an opportunity to speak with Dakota News Now about the incident.

Juneteenth Sioux Falls 2024 Chairman Julian Beaudoin — a former state trooper who co-owns Swamp Daddy’s Cajun Kitchen and recently completed his tenure as executive director of the South Dakota Museum of African American History — said he was ” disgusted” when he heard about the alleged spat.

“Spitting on someone or spitting on someone is the most disrespectful thing you can do to another human being,” Beaudoin said.

Beaudoin spoke with Jones Monday morning.

“He wasn’t his usual happy self,” Beaudoin said. “He still appreciated the honor but I could hear in his voice that he was disappointed. Chet is a man who has served this community for a long time – not just people of color, but our state, as well as a representative. He is a wonderful man of character and it showed when this happened.

“And again, I’m very thankful that it was Chet in that position of Marshal, and not someone else, because that could have definitely gotten worse.”

While it is not known whether or not the group of mostly black people was the target of racial intimidation, both Newton and Beaudoin mentioned how they tried to put themselves in Jones’ shoes as someone who lived through the civil rights era of the 1960s as a teenager in California and as the only black student enrolled at Northern State University in Aberdeen during his time there from 1967 to 1971, when he was a three-time conference champion wrestler and a member of four conference championship football teams.

Jones moved to work in Sioux Falls shortly after graduation. He was a prominent figure in high school and college sports circles, particularly as a multi-sport official. He is a member of the Upstate Athletic Hall of Fame as an athlete, the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame as an official, and the California African American Hall of Fame.

He mentioned in his speech before the Freedom Walk about overcoming a lot of racism in his more than 50 years of living in the area.

“Chet as an activist, having a history of fighting in the civil rights era, putting him in the position of being spat on again, I can only imagine what Chet must have felt in those days. I can only imagine what he was thinking in those days,” Beaudoin said, adding that Jones may not want to talk about Saturday’s incident because of past racial trauma the incident may have sparked.

Both Newton and Beaudoin noted that this incident came on the heels of neo-Nazi demonstrations in Pierre and Deadwood the week before.

“I’m very aware that there are a lot of people in the community who don’t feel safe, here in South Dakota, here in Sioux Falls,” Newton said.

“Black people are definitely starting to feel less and less safe,” Beaudoin said. “Whether it’s at home or out in the community, we need to be even more vigilant than we already were. Things like this unfortunately happen to people of color every day, right in our community.

“And so when you talk about safety issues, there are certainly some individuals who may feel safe, but as a community we feel less and less safe every day. Now, that said, that doesn’t mean we won’t continue to make progress toward the goal of safety, toward the goal of justice, and toward the goal of liberty.”

Beaudoin said he had recent discussions with Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum.

“We have a unique opportunity where if we can act very quickly, then we can commit to each other and show people outside of Sioux Falls, outside of South Dakota, that this is a safe and welcoming community. But until we do that, this is not what feels like a safe and welcoming community for people of color.”

After the Freedom Walk ended at Fawick Park, Juneteenth Sioux Falls events continued with the festival a few blocks away in the parking lot of the Avera IT building. There were no further incidents to threaten the safety of patrons for the rest of the day.

“We’re not going to let anything stand in the way of our community,” Beaudoin said. “It was a rainbow of colors out there and it was so much appreciation from us as a committee to see the Sioux Falls community come out and just love our community and celebrate what we celebrate, which is black freedom and black joy. .”