Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement activists participated in the 10th Annual Acres Homes Juneteenth Parade on June 17, with signs and banners on a truck and a shiny red jeep. Activists spoke on a sound system to the hundreds lining West Montgomery Road in Northwest Houston.
The crowds, with participants from youth to elders, cheered when speakers told them: “We are opposed to the death penalty, because just like the whole criminal justice system, it is based on racism. It only targets people of color and the poor.”
As they paraded along with Black cowboys on horses, marching bands, and various politicians, the abolitionists struck a chord with those lining the streets in almost 100 F weather. They explained, “We know that cops lie, that DAs lie, and they hide evidence, and court appointed attorneys do not defend properly. The system is broken and cannot be fixed. We must abolish the death penalty now!” The shouted responses varied from “Right on!” to “You ain’t lying!” to “That’s the truth!”
When Yancy Balderas, whose spouse, Juan Balderas is on death row, chanted, “Texas says death row,” the crowds responded with “We say heck no!”
Lee Greenwood held a large photo of her son who was executed in 2007, even though he didn’t kill anyone. His face exemplified those sitting on death rows around the country, as 41% on death row are African American, but they comprise only 14% of the general population.
Juneteenth is celebrated as the day that U.S. troops finally arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and informed enslaved people in Texas that they were free. It has been celebrated by Black Texans for 150 years.
Texas was the first state to make June 19, or Juneteenth, an official holiday. This was due to the long years of struggle by Black State Rep. Al Edwards.
The U.S., however, didn’t declare Juneteenth a holiday until 2021.
Juneteenth is celebrated all over Texas with parades, festivals, film showings, barbecues and concerts, by groups as varied as the Houston Children’s Museum to the National Black United Front to the Emancipation Park Conservancy.
This park is the oldest in Texas and was founded by four formerly enslaved people, who pooled their money to buy 10 acres of land in 1872, so the Black community would have a place to celebrate their freedom — thus the name. Until the 1950s, it was the only public park and swimming pool in Houston open to African Americans.
Gloria Rubac is a founding member of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement.