Sunday’s Pride Parade was already viewed as a last chance to prove the parade should stay in Boystown and avoid a change of venue to a downtown area that can more easily handle 1 million people.
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States, those security concerns have intensified amid fear the celebration at Chicago’s second-largest parade could be over the top.
On Friday, parade organizers and local aldermen were crossing their fingers and hoping the security changes they put in place — including 90 off-duty Chicago police officers — would be enough to avoid a raucous repeat of last year’s night of public drinking and vandalism that damaged a police vehicle.
“We’re concerned, but we’ve had numerous meetings with the police,” longtime parade coordinator Richard Pfeiffer said. “They knew the potential pro and con and what could happen with the Supreme Court ruling. They’re prepped.
“We want you to celebrate and enjoy the parade. But you need to do it in a safe and respectful manner. Don’t drink along the parade route. If people do come with open alcohol, they will be stopped. They’ll have to toss it out. And they’ll have the potential to get a $1,000 fine.”
A pride flag was raised outside Chicago City Hall on Friday after the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Town Hall District Commander Robert Cesario could not be reached for comment on whether security will be beefed up even further.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said he is “anxious” about the possibility of a rowdier-than-expected crowd.
“We’ve marshaled as many resources as possible to make sure this parade is safe for visitors and safe for the neighborhood. We’re ready. We have a plan,” Tunney said.
Ald. James Capplelman (46th) added, “We planned this parade with the anticipation that marriage equality would be announced. Our plans will not change. We are doing everything we can to make this work. But we’ll be approaching historic highs. I’m anticipating over 1 million people. I am concerned.”
The 46th annual Pride Parade will step off at noon Sundayat Montrose and Broadway.
The most important security change is the hiring of 90 off-duty police officers, paid for by parade organizers, to help with crowd control between the hours of 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
That will free “hundreds” of Chicago Police officers, including officers on horseback, to concentrate on the evening hours, when public drinking and all of the problems that come with it really have gotten out of hand. Particular attention will be paid to CTA stations near the parade route.
Clubs and restaurants along the North Halsted Street strip have also hired their own security to assist with a post-parade crowd that can be completely different than the crowd that lines the parade route.
In addition, Tunney has asked “a couple dozen” bars in the 44th and 46th Wards with 4 a.m. licenses to voluntarily agree to close at 2 a.m. on parade day.
The plan also includes multiple checkpoints along what Tunney described as a “porous” parade route to limit public drinking; barricading Belmont Avenue; limiting political parade entries; and doubling the contingent assigned to clean up the littered streets and sidewalks after the parade.
“A lot of the problems happen after the parade on the nightlife strip. Different groups come in and may not have been at the parade. They come to party at the clubs. Merchants on the street are bringing in security in the afternoon to deal with that issue on the strip,” Pfeiffer said.
Tunney, Pfeiffer and Cappleman hope the security changes will be enough to keep the parade, which has grown into one of the nation’s largest gay pride events, in Boystown.
“I’ve been marching in this parade for over 25 years. It has changed dramatically with the number of people. There is some serious concern about whether a neighborhood can handle over 1 million people,” Cappleman said Friday.
“We will review how well this goes and make a decision about what happens in 2016. To go crazy and tear up a neighborhood doesn’t make sense. If we’re celebrating respecting the rights of everyone, by all means do it on Pride Day and respect the rights of everyone who lives there.”