Batavia, New York, residents young and old donned Halloween costumes of all colors, shapes, and sizes at the Trunk or Treat event hosted by Just Kings Social Club, a newly formed racial justice group that advocates for community members of color. Outreach events like Trunk or Treat are part of the organization’s initiative to mobilize for criminal justice reform, a political issue at the forefront of the 2020 election.
Though the group is not affiliated with Black Lives Matter, Just Kings has shown its solidarity with nationwide police reform movements following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Just Kings has organized outreach events like the June 7 “March for Justice” protest in downtown Batavia and Juneteenth “Teach Thy Neighbor” celebration at the YWCA of Genesee County.
Over 400 demonstrators attended the March for Justice, and the organization has received an outpouring of community support on its Facebook page. In addition to large gatherings, Just Kings works with those in need of financial assistance and emotional support on an individual basis.
“From giving free haircuts and back-to-school bags to selling chicken barbecues to put on things like [Trunk or Treat], the community’s responded, and it’s been awesome,” said Just Kings member Otis Thomas. “They’re enjoying the movement, and we’re going to keep pushing forward and hoping for bigger and better things.”
Eventgoers spoke highly of the grassroots organizing work that Just Kings is doing to bring all Batavia and Genesee County, New York, residents into a cohesive discussion about racial justice.
“Every single member of Just Kings really has their heart put into this,” supporter MaKayla Armstrong said. “They’re really trying to make Batavia a better place, a safe place.”
Vocalizing Underrepresented Concerns About Police Reform
Three Just Kings members are on the City of Batavia Police Collaboration Advisory Stakeholder Group, a board of local leaders and residents tasked with reimagining the city’s policing practices. One of the original objectives of Just Kings was to join the board. Group members said it is meaningful to be engaged in dialogue with the Batavia Police Department.
“To be invited, to have a few of our members on that board, was a huge accomplishment for us, not for the clout but for the actual voice that we can have in the community,” Just Kings member Haven Armstrong said.
As one of the first community groups for people of color in Genesee County, which is a predominantly white, conservative region, Just Kings has been spearheading efforts to gain representation for Black and brown residents and confront the racial disparities that exist in local policing policies.
“We felt for years being from here and living here so long that our voice was kind of suppressed,” he said. “Having the members that we know that are out doing the right things or trying to make an actual reform happen … was huge for us and the community.”
Gaining Representation and Reform Through the Vote
Criminal justice reform has also been taking place at the polls. Encouraging voting among its supporters is a component of Just Kings’ work to educate youth and raise awareness of racial inequalities at the local level.
“When it all comes down to it, this is a good place to be,” Just Kings member Oraid Edwards said. “We want to prove that but, at the same time, make changes so that way equality spreads throughout.”
To facilitate those changes, Just Kings has shared voting resources with its supporters so they are informed about how to cast their ballots this election season.
“We believe the local government — your governor and your local things in your city — is what’s really going to matter for us right now,” Thomas said. “… Get out and vote. Push the [police reform] issue. If you’re 18 or over and you have that voice, use it.”
Lauren Leone is a journalism student at Ithaca College, a graduate of Batavia High School, and a former intern for The Batavian. This article originally appeared in Ithaca Week.
UPDATE 11:32 a.m., Sunday, June 7: Organizer Ken Morrocco says "due to unforeseen circumstances" the "Batavia Chalk-Out" planned for this afternoon from 2 to 4 has been postponed until next Sunday, June 14.
A trio of organizers is planning an event Sunday afternoon, June 7, in Downtown Batavia. Lindsay Wrobel, Verneda Peete and Ken Marrocco, are holding the "Batavia Chalk-Out" from 2 to 4 p.m.
It is not affiliated whatsoever with the protest "March for Justice," which is planned roughly from 8 a.m. to noon the same day.
"We believe (the Chalk-Out) has the potential to be an important moment for the community," Wrobel wrote in an email to The Batavian.
It starts at the International Honorary Peace Garden at Batavia, located at 111 Main St. next to the Holland Land Office Museum. It is expected fan out down Main Street from there.
Here's a statement from the organizers:
"The event will allow people to express their feelings of support surrounding recent events relating to police brutality via chalk art while maintaining social distance. We hope to spark conversations among friends and families and to demonstrate that the black community has allies everywhere, including in small towns like ours.
"We ask that people wear masks to the event, and suggest bringing signs and chairs depending on how long individuals plan to stay. Chalk will be provided, but we also encourage people to bring their own."
"We're excited to see what our community can create, and hopeful that you'll find our event interesting."
What once was billed as a protest is being transformed into a call for unity in the City of Batavia.
Area resident Macy Paradise formed a group called "Community Against Social Injustice" met with city leaders today and together they worked out a plan for a BBQ for Equality to be held at Williams Park at noon on Sunday.
Originally, Paradise and group members were planning a "protest" outside City Hall on Sunday but after violence erupted in other cities following peaceful protests, Paradise said he recognized the risk to local businesses in holding an event downtown.
He said the City of Batavia and City Church have agreed to donate food for the BBQ. The restriction on public gatherings in the park will be lifted Sunday afternoon for this event.
Statement from Macy Paradise:
In light of the recent destructive events happening nationwide and after meeting with many head city members, we’ve decided to team up with the city to take a proactive approach to getting our voices heard! The City of Batavia has teamed up with Community Against Social Injustice to bring OUR CITY a BBQ FOR EQUALITY in place of the protest. We will meet at NOON on Sunday, June 7th at Williams Park to show that this community can come together as ONE for the same cause, equality! The City of Batavia and The City Church are donating the food and resources necessary to make this event successful! This will be a FREE family-friendly event with many guest speakers, including The City of Batavia’s Police Chief Shawn Heubusch, who will share his views on the recent events happening in our nation and to promote equality within our community! Show up and MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD! We are ALL capable of standing TOGETHER to show that Black Lives Matter and that our community is strong and working together towards the same mission, EQUALITY!
Our mission is to show our community that we are unified in the efforts to end the social injustices happening to our brothers and sisters of color. We hope to bring the whole community together in one place to show how important it is for local police to denounce the actions of those officers who have committed these social injustices to the minorities in this community in hopes that we come together in the fight for equality. We listened to the voices of our local residents and business owners and decided we would make a much more proactive stance if we shifted from a protest to a BBQ/Rally for equality. We’d love all elected city officials, civil servants, businesss owners, and residents to come together and hold each other accountable in the fight for equality. Hopefully this alleviates the fears and brings more people together for a peaceful cause!
Chief Shawn Heubusch confirmed the plan and said city officials were concerned about outside agitators using an event downtown to come here and cause trouble.
"We don't want to see happen here what happened in Rochester," Heubusch said. "It's better that we come together united and have everyone sit down and have a good conversation rather than everybody screaming at each other."
Heubusch will be one of the speakers at the BBQ and he will share his thoughts on the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis.
"We're calling on our elected leaders to participate and show those looking for justice that we're united," Heubusch said.
The Batavian will have a live stream interview with Paradise at 3:30 p.m. today and with Heubusch on Wednesday morning.