Guidelines established for Hummers Parade

MIDDLETOWN — Although guidelines concerning all parades were on the table Wednesday night, it was the 2019 Hummers Parade that was the driving force behind the meeting.

Mayor and Town Council unanimously approved a set of guidelines that would give structure to future parades, including the Hummers Parade, which is set to occur as scheduled on Jan. 1, 2020, should it be granted the permits.

The parade drew sharp criticism last year for its content — including a depiction of detention at the U.S.-Mexico border — and prompted town officials to nominate a parade committee to establish guidelines going forward.

The guidelines stipulate that the onus of the parade is on a private individual, not the town of Middletown. The guidelines do not specify that participating floats must register with the individual running the parade. Any violation of the guidelines falls on the individual.

Before laying out standard parade protocol — such as road safety, cleanup and start and end times — the guidelines emphasize the importance of the First Amendment, and that Middletown “cannot, and will not, attempt to unlawfully regulate the exercise of free speech.”

The guidelines note that the Supreme Court has recognized parades as a “form of expression and such activities thus reflect an exercise of basic constitutional rights in their most pristine and classic form.”

It goes on to state that the court thus “shields certain acts, some of which might be deemed as offensive or inappropriate. The First Amendment does not erect a shield against merely private conduct.”

“I apply every year for the permits. I applied to the town of Middletown for a permit 11 months and 14 days ago for the upcoming Hummers Parade, Jan. 1, 2020,” said Jack Schreppler, who said he has been involved with the parade since 1971.

He noted that he applied around the same time to DelDOT for permits to use Broad and Main streets for the parade; he has gotten a permit from them every year, he said.

“DelDOT has not acted on my application because Middletown has not yet acted on my application,” he said. “DelDOT waits for the local government to act first. I fully expect that if I get a permit from the town, I will then get the permit from DelDOT.”

For nearly 50 years, the Hummers Parade — a take on the Mummers Parade meant to “spoof events that happened in the previous year” — has launched at 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day. The self-proclaimed “grand marshal for life” Mr. Schreppler roller skates at the front of the parade.

He added that, after the reading of the guidelines by Mayor Kenneth Branner that evening, he did not disagree with any of it. He thanked the council and parade committee for “adhering to the Constitution.”

“I just want to say that we have one Constitution for all of us, because all of us in this room are either the immigrants or the descendants of immigrants,” he said. “And when we come to this country, we have one Constitution for all of us. It’s not my people and your people. It’s all of us. We the people.”

Mr. Schreppler planned to pick up a permit application the following day, he said at Wednesday’s meeting.

Karen Alexander, a resident of the area since 1992, said that she has long attended the Hummers Parade.

“I think there have been other parades up and down Broad Street that offended me as well. I commend the mayor and the town council for putting together a set of rules that are going to be fair for all parades,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair to section out one group of people, one parade; there shouldn’t be separate rules just because a certain group of people don’t like it.”

Others were skeptical of the guidelines.

Emy Diaz-Rivera said that it felt “a bit hopeless” that the opening of the guidelines relied so heavily on the First Amendment.

“It’s not about blocking free speech,” she said, “but it’s about not seemingly targeting through that kind of satire, not seemingly targeting an oppressed group.”

Mr. Branner said that, because of the First Amendment, there have been many different assemblies in the town’s history.

“We’ve had assemblies here that have been controversial. I mean, we’ve had the Klu Klux Klan, we couldn’t stop it. We didn’t like it. They got a permit. They were very peaceful. We had police protection. They were out there. They marched on the four corners. We’ve had assemblies at the square, they got permits,” he said. “That’s their right as the First Amendment allows them to do.”

The guidelines add that while observing the First Amendment, it is the hope that those holding parades recognize “the rights of others in attendance, and in such a manner so as not to incite violence or other unlawful behavior, so that the right to peaceable assembly is preserved.”

Ms. Diaz-Rivera and Maggie Delisi noted that, since this affected the Latino population of Middletown, they wish the agenda and minutes were conveyed in Spanish, too. Mr. Branner said that from this meeting forward, the town would meet that concern.

Ms. Delisi added that any event can bring up culture, and the difference, noting, “we want this to be done, but in a tasteful manner.”

“You made a great point,” Mr. Branner said. “I would expect the Latino community would have a great float if there’s a parade permit for the Hummers Parade Jan. 1.”

Several residents questioned what would happen should the guidelines be violated.

The town solicitor, Scott Chambers, said that the mayor and council would have to deal with those instances when it arises.

“You, as a council, are going to have to decide if you have an infraction or a deviation from the guidelines as to how to approach it,” he continued. “And I don’t think I can prophylactically spell that out for you.”

Mr. Branner said that if the guidelines were violated, no more permits would be issued to the organizer. That stipulation was added when the council voted to approve the guidelines.

Others brought up a deeper issue, with council engaging with the full population they represent.

“I think that is important to understand that the times are changing. And then we got to do the right thing by [everyone] and you say, ‘We are all together.’ You said that, doesn’t matter: black, white, Hispanics,” Ms. Delisi said. “OK, fine. Let us feel that. Let us know that.”

“In this room, there’s a lot of hurting people,” said Bishop Jeffery Broughten. He added that he recently met with local police about “boots on the ground.” “I just want to know from the town and council, elected officials, the seven that sit here, what are their relationships with the community? Do they go out? Do they represent those who vote and put them in this office to build relationships to get out there and learn a little bit more about diversity in the heart of your community?”

Mr. Branner said that he is willing to meet with anyone.

“If anybody calls me and wants to have a meeting, if anybody sends me an email, I answer it. I return every single phone call. If you want to sit down with me and tell me how we can improve the relations and ideas you have, you call [my administrative assistant] and we’ll set up a meeting and we’ll sit down and talk about it,” he said.