No concerns about violence during Juneteenth Devil’s Punch Bowl commemoration, law enforcement leaders here say

Published 2:06 pm Monday, May 16, 2022

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NATCHEZ — Natchez Chief of Police Joseph Daughtry and Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten met last week with the organizer of the Juneteeth Devil’s Punch Bowl memorial event and on Monday said they are confident the aim is a safe, respectful tribute to ancestors who suffered and died there.

“We had a meeting with the organizer, along with the mayor, and we feel real confident this is going to be a safe event. They are just going to exercise their second amendment rights,” Daughtry said. “We do not see any threat to any of our citizens.”

Nick Bezzel, who is founder of the Elmer Geronimo Pratt Gun Club based in Austin, Texas, plans several events in Mississippi over Juneteenth weekend, three of which will take place in Natchez. The first is a town hall-type meeting on Friday, June 17, at a yet to be determined time and place. Later, there will be a tribute to those who were killed and died at the Devil’s Punch Bowl site on Cemetery Road at 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 19, followed by a celebration at 2 p.m. at Broadmoor Park that will include food and drink vendors, a jumpy house and other activities for children.

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Patten said he agrees.

“I feel very comfortable with what they are doing,” he said. “(Bezzel) made it clear that what he and his group will be here for is to educate people and actually try to get the African American community to stop the violence and killing among themselves.”

Patten said he would never encourage any group to bring guns into the community.

“It was made clear to (Bezzel) we don’t encourage anyone, whether it is this particular group or others we have seen on the national news, to bring guns into our community, but it is certainly their right to do so. We wanted to meet with him to make sure we are on the same pages in terms of safety and security. They seem to have their marches organized to the point that incidents are taking place at them.”

Daughtry and Patten said they have been in contact with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, who have told them Bezzel’s gun club is organized and well trained. Patten pointed to an event the group along with other Black gun clubs held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to commemorate the 1921 race massacre there.

“They had all those groups there and they had not one single incident there,” Patten said. “We don’t want anything to break up the harmony and progress that has been made through this entire community. This particular administration in office right now has done a ton to move us toward racial reconciliation — acknowledging a dark past, creating monuments, and showing the state and nation this community is moving forward in the right direction. We told (Bezzel) we don’t want anything happening here that would disrupt that.”

Daughtry and Patten said a rumor which had been circulating that the Army National Guard would be in Natchez for the Juneteenth events is false.

Daughtry said Bezzel’s group has an extensive plan to keep the event peaceful.

“The sheriff and I both went through a security plan with them, a pre-event check plan. They have so much stuff in place. They even have a standard operating procedure plan in place with their group as to how to interact with the community. These are all professional people and legal gun owners who have passed background checks. They are not coming for violence or to stir things up and get people all in an uproar,” Daughtry said.

“This man (Bezzel) is a decorated war veteran,” Patten said. “He is coming to educate these youth who are committing crimes in this community and killing each other. He is trying to do the right thing. They have the right to bear arms and his group is trying to teach people how to do it responsibly. Nobody is really educating people how to have firearms and be responsible with them.”

Daughtry said the gun club has good intentions and plans to further invest in the Natchez community and try to help young people here find a good way of life.

“When you start losing industries and businesses, like Natchez did when IP and other industries left, that’s when crime starts. His group wants to educate young people in how to become truck drivers and welders and enter into jobs like that to gain skills that will give them a positive life and a positive light to follow,” he said.

“I feel very confident and I want everybody in Natchez to be at ease. They are going about everything the correct way. They have sat down with leaders in the city and county and have talked about security and safety matters. They know what we expect for our citizens and we are in complete alliance,” Daughtry said.

“Mississippi is an open carry state and people have the right to bear arms legally. They are coming in here and will work to teach people how to do it responsibility,” Patten said.