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Anniston's Juneteenth Festival in jeopardy

ANNISTON (AP) — The city of Anniston has commemorated the end of slavery with a Juneteenth Festival for 18 years, but organizers say a lack of police officers and deputies to handle security is threatening to end the tradition.

Anniston's festival, considered by some to be one of the biggest such events in the Southeast, is scheduled for June 16. But organizer Ruby Evans said that if the lukewarm response from law enforcement continues into late May, the event would be canceled.

There were several fights during last year's festival in Zinn Park; authorities had to forcefully remove an audience member who decided to dance on stage with a gospel act, and a number of photocopied dollar bills were used to buy food from vendors.

Evans helped start the annual festival in the early 1990s and said the festival needs ample security to ensure a family friendly atmosphere.

Shortage of help

On-duty Anniston police officers patrolled the grounds in the early days of the festival, but the city began requiring the festival to hire off-duty officers as the event grew. Evans said planners were told about three years ago that Anniston's shortage of police officers made it difficult for the department to spare any, so off-duty sheriff's deputies began patrolling the event.

Now the deputies seem less willing to sign up, and organizers don't know where to turn for the needed security.

Event planners contract about 12 to 14 private security guards each year, but this year they are going to the Alabama State Troopers, Oxford police and Gadsden police asking for off-duty help.

Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson has approved the event for off-duty deputies to work, but said those who worked security in the past "aren't really anxious to do it again."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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