GLOUCESTER COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — An online threat alluding to guns and violence has caused a series of Juneteenth events to be canceled.
Friday was supposed to kick off the Gloucester County and Mathews County NAACP’s 3rd annual Juneteenth celebration until the venue hosting the 3-day event called it off less than 48 hours ago.
Violent threats have skyrocketed across the country. The Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin last week warning people that minority communities, schools, houses of worship and mass transit are the prime targets.
“I can’t believe this is happening in Gloucester. You hear of this in other places,” said Brenda Dixon of the Gloucester NAACP.
An annual celebration of African American freedom was abruptly canceled in Gloucester County because of a threatening post from a Mathews County resident on social media.
“Someone responded this event may end in guns and violence,” Dixon explained.
The since deleted post was investigated by the Gloucester County Sheriff’s Office, FBI and local Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. They ultimately found the user to not be a threat and that no crime occurred, but Dixon tells us the venue that initially offered to host the 3-day Juneteenth celebration backed out.
“It turned everything upside down. The Flat Iron staff had a meeting and they decided the liability was too great. At the last minute they canceled everything Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Dixon stated.
Scheduled performers and speakers felt uneasy.
“It left us scrambling trying to find a new venue. People were quite shaken up. People were afraid. I’m calling all the performers saying different venue, they’re saying we’re not coming, we’re scared,” Dixon said.
Pastor E. R. Graham of First United Baptist Church is now hosting Sunday’s Juneteenth church service at his parish which held Juneteenth events the last two years.
“We take these threats seriously but we will not be stopped by those threats. The threat did intimidate some of our members and some will not show,” Pastor Graham told 10 On Your Side.
Pastor Graham says the Gloucester County Sheriff’s Office and State Police will provide additional security during the afternoon service which will also have condensed performances that were originally scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
“As clergy and this is one of the discussions we had in our meeting, we have to protect our parishioners, we have to protect our membership but we have to be bold and preach the gospel and make sure the gospel is being preached. We’re at a crossroads. We need safety but we can’t be intimidated,” Pastor Graham explained.
Dixon says the threat won’t stop Juneteenth celebrations from happening now or in the future.
“We can’t be afraid. We can’t run. Juneteenth is going to come every year,” Dixon concluded.