AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — Police here are promising an increased presence at the Juneteenth celebrations around the City of Akron after a mass shooting at a birthday party earlier this month.

Juneteenth, a federal holiday observing the official end of slavery, will be celebrated with numerous activities throughout the city starting this weekend.

Three hundred people are expected at Stoner-Hawkins Park on Saturday afternoon for the 26th annual celebration with family-friendly activities.

“Of course, we celebrate freedom of expression but we are also trying to make sure that we as business owners and community organizations are giving back directly to the community,” said Felah Sutton, who organizes the event.

Numerous black-owned businesses and organizations typically are represented.

“We bought 150 hot dogs for these kids. We are going to be grilling all day (and) will be doing face painting, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, jump rope, basketball. We have everything we can have, and then we have our park,” Sutton said.

The event closely follows a mass shooting at a birthday party at which 28 people were shot, one young man was killed. The investigation remains a priority for Akron police.

It also closely follows gunfire at a festival in Macedonia as well as disturbances at church festivals in Lyndhurst and Concord Township.

During last year’s Juneteenth celebration at the park a fifteen-year-old boy, on his way to the event, was shot in the chest and paralyzed. Police consider his shooting still an open investigation with no arrest made yet.

With the Juneteenth celebrations starting this weekend, Akron Mayor Shammas Malik and Police Chief Brian Harding have released a joint statement that read:

“We are excited to gather with our community this weekend for events celebrating the Juneteenth holiday, which recognizes the day in which many enslaved Americans finally received the news of their freedom in 1865. It offers us a prime opportunity to recommit ourselves to the work of equity right here in our own community.

In light of recent events in our city, which include the June 2nd shooting on Kelly Avenue, we understand there are some concerns about public safety surrounding large gatherings in Akron. We want to assure our community that we will have a police presence this weekend at the following events as requested by organizers:

  • The Akron Black Coalition’s 26th Annual Juneteenth Festival on Saturday, June 15 from 1-7 p.m. at Stoner Hawkins Park
  • The Ward 5 Fifth Annual Juneteenth Festival at Joy Park Community Center on Saturday, June 15 from 12-5 p.m.
  • The West Akron Parade on Sunday, June 16 from noon to 1 p.m. beginning at Buchtel CLC.

It is important to gather together as a community, especially in the face of tragedy and join in celebration and unity. We both plan to attend some of these events and hope to see many members of our community there.”

There were no uniformed police at the Stoner Hawkins Juneteenth event last year.

Sutton, who said she had private security there  believes at any large gathering, but particularly at those that are endorsed by the city, there should be officers present

With the event so closely following the recent mass shooting she knows some people might have concerns but she believes they should not be afraid of attending a well-run, family-friendly celebration.

“When we have so many folks together it’s understandable that people may run into folks they may have problems with and there may be issues but the thing is we can’t celebrate. That’s the important part,” Sutton said.