The City of Douglas’s Festival of Lights Christmas Parade has gone viral – and for all the wrong reasons.
Last Friday, Trey Day, a local business owner and lifelong skateboarder, posted on his Facebook page a copy of information sent to him by the city regarding the parade, which will take place on Saturday, Dec. 2. Two sentences drew Day’s ire. In the second paragraph of the letter are two sentences that, truthfully, are poorly worded and seem out of place: “No skateboarders are allowed in the parade. No sex offenders are allowed in the parade.”
The photo and accompanying comments made by Day generated hundreds of replies, nearly all of which were negative toward the city. Most people took the city’s statements as equating skaters with sex offenders.
While I thought the city did a very poor job of crafting the letter (which the city maintains was not sent exclusively to Day but was circulated to individuals throughout the community, including local media), I don’t think the city was making any direct connection between skaters and sex offenders. However, the city didn’t go out of its way to NOT make that distinction, which I do believe shows the general disdain that the city has for skaters.
Not long after Day made his post, Georgia Henderson, the city’s public relations director, issued a statement on his page in excess of 900 words. In short, Henderson stated that last year, the city allowed skaters to participate in the parade. She said, however, that there was an incident of some kind between a skater and an adult, one that turned ugly. Because of this and other problems (which included, among other things, skaters grabbing the backs of floats and vehicles as they made their way through town), the city had decided not to allow skaters in the parade.
Henderson also addressed the sentence regarding sex offenders, stating that last year, unbeknownst to the city, a registered sex offender drove a vehicle in the parade. Of course, that could cause all sorts of problems for a lot of people.
So this year, the city decided to include language in the rules stating that neither sex offenders nor skaters could participate. Was the city equating skaters with sex offenders? I don’t think so. Was the city saying that skaters are as unwelcome in the parade as sex offenders are? Now that I do believe.
And therein lies the problem.
Like many of our local agencies and institutions, the city is very PR conscious but not very PR savvy. In their attempt to keep the parade safe and limit its liability, the city created an insensitive and potentially damaging document.
What has been lost in the debate is that the city is well within its right to limit parade participation to any group or individual that could potentially cause harm to the city, participants, and spectators. Singling out skaters, though, was not the way to go about making the parade safer. In the process, the city created another PR nightmare for itself when Michael Brooke of Concretewavmagazine.com picked up the story. He published a short article on the skating site yesterday that will further publicize the city’s continued controversy with skaters.
Exactly what will come from this remains to be seen. But what is obvious is that the city and the skating community remain light years apart. Skaters aren’t going anywhere. They’ve been here for 40 years and they’ll be here for a lot longer than that. They’re going to continue skating in the city. And business owners, politicians, and police aren’t going to like it. At some point, the two sides must reach an understanding.
But putting skaters in the same category as sex offenders, whether intended or not, isn’t the way to go about it.