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NC town cancels its Christmas parade because it could be ‘target for disruption’

Christmas Parade (Kevin Cabral/Flickr)

The Town of Garner, N.C. has canceled this year’s Christmas parade after online chatter about inclusion of a float sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans led town officials to conclude “the event could be targeted for disruption.”

The posts on Facebook and Twitter did not include any threats to disrupt the parade, nor did anyone directly contact the town other than through social media, said spokesman Rick Mercier. But given the protests around Confederate monuments and symbols in the Triangle in recent years, town officials decided to cancel the event, Mercier said.

“We just absolutely had to err on the side of public safety and what we thought was best and what we could realistically prepare for and not put the public and staff in any kind of a bad situation,” he said in an interview.

Members of Col. Leonidas L. Polk Camp No. 1486 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans have participated in the Garner Christmas Parade for several years. Mercier said the group was one of 52 entries planned for this year’s parade on Saturday, Dec. 7.

Video from last year’s parade, showing the group’s float with Confederate flags and men in gray uniforms, was posted Monday on the “Move Silent Sam” Twitter account, named for the effort to remove the statue of a Confederate soldier from the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.

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The tweet doesn’t include a threat to disrupt the parade but does question whether the group would be involved again this year.

“Is the Town of Garner trying to send the message that racism is welcome in the community?” the group tweeted. “Is this Raleigh, North Carolina suburb going to allow Confederates in this year’s Christmas parade??”

Another group, the Raleigh DSA, a chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, also called out the town on Twitter: “Hey @TownofGarner, how about not having a racism float this year? Signed, Everyone who is not racist.”

After the town announced it was canceling the parade, Move Silent Sam tweeted its disappointment, saying the town could have “disavowed hateful and divisive symbols” instead.

“The Confederate flag has been banned from schools, license plates, government buildings, Veterans Administration cemeteries, NASCAR, and leading retailers,” the group wrote. “The Town of Garner should join them and ban Confederate flags from the Christmas parade.”

Don Scott, commander of the L.L. Polk Confederate veterans group, said he understands the town’s concerns. Scott said its members have participated in the parade for “more years than I can recall,” and that it has always been a good recruiting tool for the group, which has about 50 members, all with ancestors who served in the Confederate military or government.

“I feel so bad for the children, however, because it’s about them,” Scott said in an interview. “We have enjoyed the reception we’ve had over the years from the crowd, handing out candy to the kids.”

Scott said what’s become known as the Confederate flag was a battle flag that men died to keep aloft. He rejects the notion that it’s a symbol of racism.

“All the folks I know who have roots in the South have a very wide open Christian heart,” he said. “This is a way to frighten and intimidate us.”

‘We’re disappointed’

Mercier said the decision to cancel the parade was made by town manager Rodney Dickerson at the recommendation of police and members of the parks and recreation department, which organizes the parade. He said Dickerson consulted the Town Council, which supported the decision.

The town announced the cancellation late Wednesday morning, saying it was “especially concerned about the possibility of bystanders — including children — being caught in the middle of disruptive actions.” The announcement didn’t explain what town officials were worried about, leaving it to Mercier and Dickerson to elaborate as the day went on.

Residents lamented the decision.

“There’s disappointment. That’s putting it mildly in some cases,” Mercier said. “We’re disappointed. Staff understand it’s a tradition.”

The parade was to begin at Benson Road and Main Street and head down Garner Road before turning on to New Rand Road to get back to Main Street. As in year’s past, it was expected to include the staples of a Christmas parade, including marching bands, floats, classic cars and Santa Claus.

The town says the annual tree-lighting festival, Light Up Main, will go on as planned on Friday, Dec. 6, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Main Street downtown.

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© 2019 The News & Observer