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.
Bottom video by Howard Owens/The Batavian. The video was runner-up in the Best Multimedia Competition in 2020 sponsored by Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION).