Two North Carolina towns have canceled their Christmas parades due to fears of unspecified threats of violence from groups who planned to protest the inclusion of Confederate groups.
Wake Forest said in a statement Wednesday that its downtown's board of directors voted to cancel this year's parade "due to the potential for violence." Neighboring Garner canceled its own parade a week earlier, citing concerns "that the event could be targeted for disruption."
Town officials in Wake Forest said police reported receiving credible information in recent days that growing numbers of outside groups planned to attend the parade to support or oppose the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy.
Wake Forest Police Chief Jeff Leonard said one group notified the town of its plans to protest, "but the department is concerned about outside agitators that show up, wreak havoc, then leave," according to the town's statement.
“Groups that contact us about their plans to protest tend to follow our rules and regulations,” Leonard said. “We’re concerned about outside agitators that don’t notify us. Radicals don’t typically call ahead. These aren’t area residents we’re talking about. These are professional protesters who have no regard for the safety and well-being of others.”
The police chief said at a meeting of Wake Forest's downtown board of directors that protesters planning to come to the parade grew in number to 200 rather than the original 10 who had initially been expected.
Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones said the decision stirs a range of emotions, including anger, frustration, disappointment and sadness, but she was supportive of the parade's cancellation.
“For most of us, our annual Christmas parade is about spending time with friends and family and celebrating the spirit of the season,” she said in a statement. “Yet there are some outside our community whose sole purpose is to use the occasion to promote their political agenda without any regard for the health and safety of our citizens."
"Anyone who knows me knows, that canceling our parade goes against everything I believe in," she said in a video on the Wake Forest website. "I don't like bullies and I don't like feeling as though we are bowing to their tactics, but at the end of the day, I must set aside my personal feelings and focus instead on what's most important."