A Brainerd peace group has been told it can't march in today's July 4th parade, and event organizers and police say it's because they can't guarantee the safety of the marchers.
Members of the Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace wanted to march to protest the war in Iraq, but were told by Brainerd Community Action, which organized the parade, that there weren't enough police officers available to protect them.
Police Chief John Bolduc said his department will be spread too thin to have an officer march with the coalition in case of violence, and was notified too close to the event to make additional arrangements.
"We have no way of regaining control once we lose control," said Bolduc, about a possible riot. "There is no other help."
He said his office will have 22 local officers and about five Crow Wing County deputies monitoring the roughly 33,000 people expected in Brainerd for the weekend's events.
The possibilities that some crowd members will probably be drinking alcohol and that some military veterans at the parademight not react well to a peace protest also were considered, Bolduc said.
But Sara Dunlap, a coalition member and wife of a retired Marine, said the group supports U.S. troops and would not display incendiary signs.
The coalition was offered its own booth near the police station and entry into next year's parade instead of marching, Bolduc said.
But Larry Fisk, a coalition member from Fort Ripley, Minn., said the group rejected the offer because it would not give the group adequate exposure.
He said the city would have protected minority marchers if there were a racist element in the crowd, and it should protect coalition members.
"Either we're being discriminated against because of our ideology, or Brainerd is claiming that they have this event and can't control the crowd."
Fisk also said the coalition faxed its application for entry to parade organizers on June 20, more than enough time for them to arrange additional security.
Neither Nancy Cross, executive director of Brainerd Community Action, nor City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick returned phone calls to their offices and homes Thursday, but in earlier news reports both said the tardiness of the application and safety concerns were their main reasons for denying the request.
However, James Dehen, a Brainerd City Council member and liaison between the city and Community Action, said there is no set deadline for applications. He said that while the city respects the coalition's views, it was concerned that there might be problems.
"Brainerd is a small town with a great celebration," Dehen said. "We were concerned about public safety."
But Kelly Bevans, another council member, said he cannot remember any reports of violence during demonstrations by the coalition or any other peace group. Bevans said the community has been pretty supportive of peace demonstrators.
Bolduc agreed, although he said he was uncertain how a generally patriotic crowd would react to a peace theme.
Kristen Blann, a coalition member, said she finds it disturbing that in a celebration of America's independence, a group with dissenting views about the war is not being allowed to voice them.
She also finds it troubling that Community Action, which is funded through a tax levy and received $10,000 from the city for fireworks, is responsible for that denial.
"I don't think the founding fathers would have approved of the climate in this country," she said.