Salisbury Pride, police agree on street closure for festival

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 15, 2013

SALISBURY — Salisbury’s gay pride organization wants to return to the street for its third annual festival this summer, and this time the Salisbury Police Department supports the request.
After dozens of protestors showed up at Salisbury Pride’s 2011 festival in the 100 block of East Fisher Street, Police Chief Rory Collins denied the group’s request to use the same public area in 2012.
Instead, Collins recommended holding the event in a private parking lot, where police could more easily prevent protestors from interacting with participants.
So Salisbury Pride rented the parking lot owned by Wallace Properties at 110 S. Lee St. for the 2012 festival, which drew only eight protestors but also fewer participants. Police put the 2011 crowd at roughly 2,000 and the 2012 turnout at about 1,500.
Tuesday, Salisbury Pride will ask City Council to close the 100 block of East Fisher Street all day June 22 for the festival. The request appears on the council’s consent agenda, so no discussion is expected.
This year, the festival would be split between East Fisher Street, the Wallace parking lot and Cooper’s parking lot, which are all adjacent. The main entertainment stage would remain in the parking lot, but vendors and informational booths would set up on East Fisher Street.
The Police Department and Salisbury Pride negotiated the compromise, Collins said.
“After discussions and negotiations with organizers to resolve a couple of safety concerns and following careful consideration of the overall venue, the Police Department is of the opinion that the addition of the 100 block of East Fisher Street is manageable,” a memo to City Council said.
During the 2012 event, organizers were not granted permission to use the street due to the increased likelihood of conflict between event participants and protestors, the memo said.
“The negative impact, organizers say, (was) that they did not have enough room for all of the vendors who requested to participate and that they were not visible from Main Street and kept the event hidden,” police said.
Police still have the right to “shut down any portion of the festivities up to the possibility of all of the festivities, if deemed to be in the best interest of safety for the participants, the surrounding neighborhood, or the community as a whole,” Collins said.
He said he agreed because the focus of the festival will remain in the private parking lots, where protestors will not be permitted.
If the portion of the festival on East Fisher Street becomes unsafe, police will shut it down and force the entire event back onto to private lots, Collins said.
“Though the event will be more spread out, we will be able to provide the needed security by allocating manpower to various locations as needed,” he said. “The event on the parking lots will still be surrounded, as they are private lots and will be a protestor-free area. 
“Those going onto East Fisher Street will know up front that protestors will possibly also be in the area. This area will be heavily policed for problems and, as stated earlier, this portion of the event will be shut down, if deemed to be a problem.”
Collins said it’s hard to predict how many protestors may turn out.
After this summer’s event, police will have tried three scenarios — all, none and some of the festival on East Fisher Street.
“I am hoping that, after we see how the event goes this year, we will be able to settle on a plan for any future events,” Collins said.
While former Mayor Susan Kluttz proclaimed the 2011 festival as Pride Day for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, current Mayor Paul Woodson last year declined to issue the same proclamation, saying the event was too controversial and divided the city.
Kluttz, now secretary for the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, later acknowledged the proclamation may have cost her the election but said she would do it again. She lost the mayor’s seat in 2011 to Woodson by 35 votes.
Cost estimates for Salisbury Pride 2013 are $2,800 for police officers, $300 for fire personnel and $300 for the street division. Salisbury Pride will pay $600, for a total estimated cost to the city of $2,800.
Pride organizers could not be reached for comment.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.