Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival canceled over costs and safety concerns

Leimert Park, CA - June 19: Leana Rice and Jaylen Rowe pose for a photo inside a Juneteenth frame as people gather at the Leimert Park Village Juneteenth Festival to enjoy food art and music on Monday, June 19, 2023 in Leimert Park, CA. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Leana Rice and Jaylen Rowe pose for a photo at the Leimert Park Village Juneteenth Festival in 2023. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Citing cost and safety concerns, organizers of the annual Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival in South L.A. have announced they're canceling the celebratory event until next year.

The announcement was posted Monday on the festival’s website, where organizers said they were unable to raise enough funds to safely host a large-scale celebration.

“Since assuming full responsibility for the festival's production and logistics in 2020, we have all witnessed the extraordinary growth, reaching an attendance of over 50,000 and an impressive 800,000 live stream views on Amazon Prime last year,” the statement read. “However, the rise in permit costs, logistical expenses, and necessary safety measures have surpassed our current budget.”

On the festival’s Instagram account, one person wrote that costs including insurance coverage, city permits and security had increased from last year.

Alfred Torregano, producer and executive director of the festival, confirmed to The Times that organizers were told they would have to move the live entertainment stages from the area as a safety measure. He said they considered moving the stages to Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, but that would require time to negotiate an agreement with the property owners, and it would only make the event's footprint larger.

The festival simply outgrew the event space, Torregano said.

The cancellation of the event comes two weeks before thousands of people were expected to gather in Leimert Park to celebrate Black history, culture and Juneteenth, the June 19 U.S. holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, were informed that they were free, marking the end of slavery.

In the past, the free block party event — which was started by Texas native Jonathan Leonard in 1949 after moving to Los Angeles, long before Juneteenth became an official holiday in 2021 — included stage performances, food trucks and Black-owned businesses selling their wares including jewelry and clothes.

Organizers said in the statement that the event's vendor marketplace has generated more than $1 million in sales.

“It stands as one of the largest Black community events in Los Angeles, second only to Taste of Soul,” the statement read. “This festival is a labor of love, driven by our deep commitment to our community and our culture.”

But the event has grown so much it has raised safety concerns. Last year, just before a Grammy-winning R&B singer was about to perform, dozens of people panicked and fled after hearing reports of a shooting, forcing organizers to end the event early. Police at the time said they found no evidence that a shooting had occurred. Authorities had also responded to a report of a fight and robbery at a nearby McDonald’s, where a small crowd tried to force open cash registers, most of which was captured by cellphones and posted on social media.

Torregano stressed that this year organizers were facing the costs of extensive fencing and sufficient security personnel to manage the crowd size. Street closures for about a week would have been necessary, he said, to set up the venue. They weren't sure they could produce a festival that would not only be a positive experience but also safe for people to attend, he said.

"When we say 'out of safety concerns,' it's from that perspective," he said. "It's not like people are not safe or there's imminent threat."

Torregano said they were also taking into consideration the effect of such a large event on neighborhood residents when they made their decision to cancel. They hope to resolve the issues by next year.

"Our commitment to providing a high-quality and safe festival experience necessitates this difficult decision," organizers said in their statement. "We refuse to compromise on the integrity and spirit of Juneteenth by delivering anything less than what our community deserves."

Torregano said although the event had been postponed until next year, he hopes people will still show up to Leimert Park informally to celebrate the holiday.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.