Garner Christmas Parade canceled due to fears of bystanders being caught in ‘disruptive actions’

Wake County News

GARNER, N.C. (WNCN) — This year’s Garner Christmas Parade has been canceled, town officials announced in a cryptically worded press release on Wednesday.

Officials announced the cancellation citing “concerns that the event could be targeted for disruption.”

“The Town is especially concerned about the possibility of bystanders—including children—being caught in the middle of disruptive actions,” the release continued. The parade was scheduled to occur Dec. 7.

CBS 17 has learned the cancellation stems from social media threats tied to the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans participating in the parade.

Though the group has marched in the event for more than a decade, people opposed to the decision to allow the SCV in the parade had urged town officials to reverse that decision.

“And our concern with safety was that the groups would come together, two or more groups would come together, and cause a disruption during the parade,” said Town Manager Rodney Dickerson. “I can’t really say for sure how credible it is, but it is concerning. And, it wasn’t worth the risk.”

Dickerson said the decision to cancel the parade came at the direction of the town council.

“The parade is a mobile event. So, there’s not any one thing, any one specific place, where you could put extra people to make sure you could safeguard that parade,” said Garner Police Capt. Joe Binns.

The decision comes amid a tense debate in the state over the placement of Confederate monuments and displaying the Confederate flag. Chatham County officials recently removed a monument outside the courthouse in Pittsboro, where protests led to arrests at times.

“Based on the scope of what’s going around the country, what’s going on around North Carolina, what’s going on locally, we were concerned,” said Binns.

Donald Scott, who is a member of the Garner camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he hadn’t heard about any concerns regarding the safety and security of the event until after it had already been canceled.

He said, “I was disappointed not so much for us but for the children who are the ones that look forward to Santa, and of course the bands, the Boy Scouts.”

A group called Move Silent Sam had urged the town not to allow SCV to participate in the parade.

On Wednesday, the group tweeted, “Instead of canceling the Christmas parade, the Town of Garner could have disallowed divisive and hurtful symbols such as the Confederate flag.”

Jackie Powell, who used to have a car in the parade, said the decision to cancel it disappointed him.

He said, “Kids look forward to that kind of stuff, especially Santa Claus and all that. And, when they don’t have it, it’s just a big letdown for the town.”

Diane Amerson, of Garner, said, “If it’s gonna keep peace, I say yeah, I’m OK with that.”

The town’s annual tree-lighting festival, Light Up Main, will go on as planned from 6 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 6.

The SCV still plans to participate in a parade in Wake Forest on Dec. 14. The town sent a notice to the community Wednesday after learning of the cancellation in Garner.

“For over two decades, the Sons & Daughters of the Confederacy has participated peacefully and without incident in the parade. The group’s entry traditionally features participants in period costumes and a banner that includes an image of the Confederate flag.

“Make no mistake about it – the Town of Wake Forest is extremely sensitive to the emotion the confederate flag stirs among those on both sides of this issue. We recognize that for some the flag represents racism, hatred and bigotry, while others see it as a representation of Southern heritage protected as a matter of freedom of speech/freedom of expression.

“Due to the considerable local and national debate this issue has stirred in recent years, Town officials consulted with legal counsel in 2018 concerning the Town’s options when it comes to the possible exclusion of certain groups from the parade. We were told in no uncertain terms that as the government entity partnering with WFD in the facilitation of the parade that we have no legal basis for excluding any group based on the flag or symbol they display. Furthermore, there have been court cases where groups that were excluded successfully sued the entities that banned them.

“To be clear, we were told that if we plan to proceed with the annual Christmas Parade, then, legally, we have no choice but to accept any organization that applies and agrees to abide by the parade rules.”

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