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Pride Parade aftermath raises questions, concerns
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

Well after the floats rolled back into storage and streets were cleared of litter, Chicago pride parade attendees were still sorting out what went happened this year and why.

Windy City Times reported in its June 29 edition (and online at Article Link Here ) that a combination of bad luck and lack of crowd control at this year's parade led to a series of mishaps, not the least of which was the diversion of an estimated 50 floats off the parade route.

Days after the parade, many were still talking about why the tires on 51 floats had been slashed hours before the parade; what caused streets and CTA to become so jammed that people started to faint; and with police and parade marshals present, why so many verbal altercations turned physical.

While not all pride attendees experienced the chaos, Windy City Times received a number of reports detailing crowd problems at this year's parade.

Richard Pfeiffer, chief organizer of the parade, said the issue was simply numbers.

"No one expected an increase from 450,000 [people from last year's parade] to 750,000 [this year]," Pfeiffer said. "I have lived my whole life in Chicago, and I don't remember attendance at an event ever jumping that much."

According to Pfeiffer, his team had nearly tripled the number of parade marshals on the route in the past two years. Given the number of parade entries, the parade committee is required to supply slightly more than 30 marshals. Pfeiffer said his team produced 120 marshals for this year's event.

Still, some who witnessed the parade complained that they felt unsafe and would not be returning next year.

Todd Bates said he saw more violence at this year's parade than he ever has.

"This was unheard of," he said. "I could not believe what I had seen."

Bates said he saw three physical brawls, two of which turned bloody in the 7-Eleven parking lot at Halsted and Roscoe. He also witnessed an incident in which a man approached a girl who had passed out in the parking and stood over her, fondling himself. Bates said he and friends desperately searched for police to interrupt the incidents but could not find any.

Reports of numerous physical altercations at this year's parade have been backed up by videos posted on YouTube, showing several different fights in Lakeview that day. One occurred at the Dunkin' Donuts on Clark and Belmont, while others took place in the street.

Fighting was not the only issue that resulted from massive turnout.

Wanda Taylor, a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) spokesperson, confirmed that the police asked the CTA to shut down the Belmont station on the Red and Brown lines for more than an hour due to pedestrian congestion on Belmont. The station was closed between approximately 2:20 p.m. and 3:25 p.m. During that time, a massive crowd formed outside of the station and pressed into the street.

Taylor, asked about the overall capacity issues on trains that day, responded: "On Sunday, CTA provided more frequent service along the Red Line and longer trains operated until 10:30 p.m. to accommodate the crowds attending the Pride Parade. Additional service also was provided on the Brown Line. This was in addition to the extra service provided for the Taste of Chicago.

"Several trains were run express throughout the day in order to maintain proper intervals between trains. This is a routine operational decision that can occur at any time, for example when a train experiences a delay due to a defect, customer requiring assistance or signal problems. The express runs were not related to the Pride Parade."

Most of the distress at the parade seemed to come early on in the route at Belmont and Halsted, the official starting point of the parade. On the west side of Halsted, a crowd as thick as a block had been smashed into such a tight space between barricades that some people began to yell for help. Police pulled one woman out of the crowd at approximately 12:05 p.m. because she said she felt light-headed, while another woman screamed that she was having a panic attack from being trapped in the crowd.

Police did not confirm earlier reports that officers were injured in that crowd, despite repeated inquiries from Windy City Times.

Despite attempts by police to hold off crowds, the sheer number of people pushing from behind forced many to jump the fence barricades and stand along the parade route. Police continued to add barricades to create a divide between fence-jumpers and the parade itself, but eventually the crowd overtook the route, and officials with the Office of Emergency Management and Communications re-directed about 50 floats off the scheduled route, south on Clark toward Diversey.

Many who were re-routed complained that they had little information as they were escorted off the route and that no one followed up with them after the parade to explain what happened.

Noa Shayden, who was in charge of Berlin's float, said the experience was disappointing and confusing.

"Nobody told us that we were being diverted," he said. "I didn't find out until we got to Diversey that we had been completely cut out of the parade, and I didn't find out until hours later why."

Still, Shayden added, his contingent made the best of the situation and enjoyed the short time they spent on their float.

According to Pfeiffer several groups that got diverted have asked for credit for next year's parade. A handful of others have requested refunds of this year's fee.

The sabotage of 51 floats before the parade also resulted in disorder. On the morning of the parade, Associated Attractions, a major float provider for the parade, said that someone had slashed two tires each on all 51 floats they had for the parade, sometime between 8 p.m. the night before and 5 a.m. the morning of the parade.

The parade continued despite the more than $12,000 worth of damage, but with organizers scrambling to get floats in the parade on time, many entries entered the parade out of order, leaving some who planned to march unable to find their groups.

The Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, got split up in the confusion and marched in the parade with two separate groups, despite the fact that they had been slotted for just one.

One police sergeant, who wished to remain anonymous, said that where she was, there were no parade marshals or officials directing floats as they entered the parade.

The sergeant also said she worked 12 hours that day and that many police got at least four hours overtime pay because alcohol consumption was high and crowds were rowdy.

Windy City Times made multiple inquiries to police spokespeople on the number of arrests at the parade as well as the number of police on staff that day. Initially police told Windy City Times that several arrests had been made, but did not provide a number or specifics on the charges.

In past years, the Chicago Police Department has released the number of arrests and the type of charges to Windy City Times the day after the parade. However, several days after the parade, police still reported that they did "not have arrest totals immediately available." Police did not respond to a request to clarify when these numbers would be released.

According to police, no one is in custody for vandalizing the floats.

"While the motive is undetermined at this time, the possibility of this being a hate crime has not been ruled out," police said in a statement to Windy City Times.

Perhaps the most visible proof that this year's parade left some unsettled was the appearance of the "Take Back Boystown" Facebook page, which had drawn more 1,000 members less than a week after it was created two days after the parade.

The page, which seemed to have appeared as both a response to a June 18 stabbing in a 7-Eleven parking lot as well as issues that this year's pride parade, was created as a forum to discuss what many say is an increase in violent crime in Lakeview.

In the days following the parade, people posted videos and picture to the page of fights that occurred and called on community members to reclaim the neighborhood from violence and gangs.

However, the page quickly turned controversial as some blamed youth of color for the neighborhood's problems, re-igniting a debate as old as the "gayborhood" itself about who is welcome on its streets and who is not.

Still, many who attended this year's parade reflected on the turnout with great enthusiasm. Bill Greaves, director of Chicago's LGBT Advisory Council, said that massive turnout at the parade signals a turning of tides for the LGBT community.

"It speaks to the fact that there's no longer a stigma in coming," Greaves said. "It's a generation shift. … I think there were glitches that need to be addressed in the coming year, but I had a really positive experience."

In the coming days, Pfeiffer will be sitting down with police officials to review this year's issues and plan for 2012.

Pfeiffer said he thinks the parade needed more police. But, he added, "there is really no blame game here. [The turnout] really shocked everybody."

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