Juneteenth celebration planned for Ronald Reagan Sports Park, says Duck Pond protest organizer

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Denton Burr, who has been at the Temecula Duck Pond protesting racial injustice, speaks at a vigil honoring George Floyd at Temecula City Hall. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Editor’s note: This event was originally scheduled to take place at Winchester Creek Park, bid was changed on June 11 to Ronald Reagan Sports Park. The story has been updated to reflect this change.

The organizers of repeated protests at the Temecula Duck Pond against police brutality toward Black Americans and people of color are planning a block party at Temecula park to celebrate Juneteenth.

Celebrated each June 19, the Juneteenth holiday commemorates the anniversary of the day in 1865 the Emancipation Proclamation was read to slaves in Texas after the end of the Civil War. Texas was the last of the former Confederate states to hear the announcement of the proclamation, which had been issued some three years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863.

Denton Burr, one of the organizers of the Temecula Duck Pond protests and last week’s march to Temecula City Hall, said the Temecula Juneteenth event will be held at Ronald Reagan Sports Park and will include various vendors, all of them Black- and minority-owned.

The block party will not only celebrate the Juneteenth holiday, but will also serve as a celebration of the thousands of signatures the informal Temecula protest group has gotten on a petition calling for the immediate firing of a sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a Black teenager in a local neighborhood four years ago.

Matthew Tucker, who was 18 in 2016, died after a deputy shot him in the back inside his family’s Temecula home.

According to media reports from a civil lawsuit filed against the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department over Tucker’s death, Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputies Michael Hamilton and Rosa Calderon responded to a call on May 4, 2016 that Tucker was depressed and suicidal.

When the officers arrived, Courthouse News reported in 2018, Matthew’s mother, Jenny Tucker, told them her son was depressed, had a knife and was seeking “suicide by cop.”

While contacting Matthew Tucker, some sort of altercation ensued, and Hamilton fired his weapon.

Hamilton said during the civil suit trial that Mathew Tucker did not respond to commands to drop his knife, and lunged at officers.

The Tuckers’ attorney, though, argued that officers should have tried to get a handle on the situation using non-lethal methods, and that deadly force should’ve been “the last option,” especially because they were already aware Matthew Tucker was suicidal.

A federal jury later cleared both Hamilton and Calderon of any wrongdoing.

But amid the backdrop of national protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, and after days of local protests at the Temecula Duck Pond and the Temecula mayor’s resignation over writing an email that said “I don’t believe there’s ever been a good person of color killed by a police officer,” Matthew Tucker’s story resurfaced. On May 5, Jenny Tucker spoke at a demonstration in front of Temecula City Hall, and one protester circulated a petition on Change.org calling for Hamilton’s firing.

“The whole goal of (the Juneteenth celebration) is to not only celebrate the end of slavery but to celebrate he Matthew Tucker petition is over 350,000 signatures,” Burr said on June 8.

As of June 10, that petition had more than 485,000 signatures, not far off its goal of 500,000.

Burr said the city and the sheriff’s department have been notified of and have given their blessing to the Juneteenth celebration, which is expected to run from noon to around 5 p.m.

“It’s gonna be a peaceful, fun time,” Burr said. “Bring out the family, come out and celebrate, and actually come together.”

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.