Middletown Hummers parade put under review

MIDDLETOWN — The look and tenor of the early afternoon march down Broad Street on Jan. 1 may be quite different next year.

A seven-member commission will be formed to establish guidelines for any gatherings next year and the event will only be permitted upon council’s approval.

After last week’s Hummers parade triggered local controversy that attracted nationwide attention, a crowd of more than 200 packed Middletown Town Hall Monday night to demand changes.

A public firestorm had erupted online after this year’s parade spoof that included, among other displays, a caged, supposedly migrant child and a similarly enclosed adult in soiled underwear at a detention center on the nation’s southern border.

A “We’ll Build This Wall” poster was included on the trailer along with a “Fiesta” sign illustrated with sombreros, all posted on YouTube as attention to the overall event grew.

In response, New Castle County resident India Colon said the first “We are Love” parade focusing on “diversity and inclusion” is in the early planning stages for 2020.

For the past 47 years the decidedly satirical and highly traditional Hummer’s Parade has launched at 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day.

Ms. Colon said recent alternative applications requested the same time and parade route as the traditional event next year.

The town, municipal police and Delaware Department of Transportation have already been contacted about upcoming intentions and hope for strong consideration, Ms. Colon told council during public comments at its regularly scheduled meeting.

“We as a community will come to that parade,” she said. ” … We intend to make that parade grow.”

Beginning a roughly 45-minute discussion with several voices heard at the meeting, Mayor Kenneth L. Branner Jr. said the council did not condone some Hummer’s entries described as “offensive and “totally inappropriate” and would not tolerate the behavior in the future.

“We are not going to tolerate this,” Mr. Branner said in opening remarks.

The mayor was immediately questioned by a person in the back of the room asking, “Some of it or all of it?”

“Some of it,” Mr. Branner quickly responded.

Soon afterward, in response to proposed upcoming changes to evaluating parades within town limits, the mayor said, “If I (and council) say something on this floor will happen, trust me it will happen.”

The mayor noted that any actions must be conducted in a legal manner and through official channels.

Other far less scrutinized Hummer’s parade presentations last week included, among others, recognition of:

• Late actor Burt Reynolds by multiple groups, complete with “Smokey and the Bandit” movie theme music heard from stereo speakers and banjo playing musicians recreating the Alabama country folks in “Deliverance”.

• Homages to the Eagles long-awaited Super Bowl title with a shirtless, scantily clad fan wearing a dog mask, a trophy holding masked man atop a truck, uniformed kids tossing a football, “Fly Eagles Fly” and “Fall Patriots Fall” signs.

• Marijuana legalization, less dangerous than President Donald Trump, according to marching supporters.

• A tax preparation service and separate Trump mask-wearing participants scattered intermittently.

• Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s supposed youthful affinity for beer, “witness stand” and “keg stand” posters included.

• Robert Mueller’s special counsel and available cheap transport to jail via a limousine company.

• The “coach of the year” who reportedly guided his 12-member Thai youth soccer team into a cave for an anticipated bonding experience, resulting in their entrapment and 18-day stay far underground with scarce food or water until rescue.

Traffic control only

While the Hummer’s event is hastily assembled with participants joining at the last moment with no vetting, the Town of Middletown has only scheduled traffic control measures by police throughout the years.

After gathering on Cass Street, the line turns north onto Broad Street, then west onto Main Street before dispersing after a typically 20- to 30-minute journey hundreds of bystanders.

The unusually large and diverse turnout Monday (including longtime residents and relative newcomers, out of towners, young and old observers, a strong minority presence and many organizations represented) filled most seats at least 15 minutes prior to the start of the council meeting. Folks continued to fill in around available wall space and just outside the entry doors.

“If you look around this room, this is what the community looks like,” recent U.S. Senate candidate Kerri Evelyn Harris said during her time at the public podium.

Councilman Jason Faulkner interjected at one point that “one little group on one day” should not define Middletown’s overall character and “[t]hat was was not us on that float that day.”

College-aged visitors held signs with messages “We will not be silent,” “Build kindness, not walls,” “White silence = violence,” “Racism in your own backyard” illustrated with a fence, and “Hate has no home here,” among others.

“If the fire marshal comes, everyone duck,” Mr. Branner said as the regular business meeting began, eliciting chuckles. “He can’t get in here anyway.”

Attendees sat quietly as ongoing Middletown Main Street development was discussed, an electric tariff update given, police report shared by Chief Michael Iglio (including monthly number of tickets written, arrests and a shoplifting incident at Wal-Mart, among other information) and new business approvals given.

After about 15 minutes, the meeting shifted to the reason most ev—eryone was there — questionable taste displayed during an event that debuted in 1972 with friends visiting other friends who were sick at home.

The gathering was meant to touch on the year’s past events and was enjoyed and endorsed for the first 46 years, according to the mayor.

Delaware Hispanic Commission Chairman Javier G. Torrijos read a letter before council (copied to Delaware Gov. John Carney), asking for a public apology from town officials, a permitting process for any future event, and a plan to increase cultural competency in the community.

“The Hispanic Commission urges Middletown officials to uphold and protect the rights of all its residents and affirm that the law against racism, intimidation, and intolerance will prevail.

“… We can’t tolerate these types of parades that are extremely racist in nature against immigrants and member of groups who are the target of expressions of hatred, discrimination, oppression and exclusion, not just in Delaware but across the country. We must prevent this from happening again!”

A civil discussion

At one point, Mayor Branner noted that the room could be cleared and the meeting adjourned if proper decorum wasn’t observed, and the crowd mostly kept proceedings civil. Uniformed Middletown Police officers were mostly out of site near a doorway and at the ready if called into duty.

Maggie Delisi, a 27-year-Middletown resident, said she began receiving phone messages within three hours of the Jan. 1 parade and was “disgusted” when she saw photos of the event.

Ms. Delisi credited the area Latino community for its hard work and contributions to the area and felt like an outsider to Middletown for the first time following the Hummer’s parade.

While Ms. Delisi expressed confidence in town council’s vow to respond to the controversy, she added “I’m going to hold you to that. …

“We are believing in justice and we want things to be right and be equals and want peace and unity and want to be neighbors. I want to be your neighbor and I want to be the one who serves you.

“I want to be the one that is there when you need me. Please do not close the doors by putting (up) that barrier of race or religion or anything (else.)”

Ms. Harris asserted that tough conversations and hearing divergent opinions were necessary for positive community growth and “We gather here because of one float. For many years there have been floats and content that have hurt our communities.

“Middletown shouldn’t be having this meeting tonight. It should be celebrating growth and prosperity.”

Staff writer Craig Anderson can be reached at 741-8296 or canderson@newszap.com.

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