St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and police Chief Anthony Holloway met with members of the community and media Thursday to reassure them that Pride weekend would go ahead as planned, but with a bit more security.
The reassurances became necessary in the wake of Sunday’s shooting at the gay Pulse nightclub in Orlando that left 49 dead and more than 50 wounded. Officials said they’d gotten many questions from people wondering if the June 25 Pride parade and the June 26 street festival would go on. Others questioned the safety precautions.
“Everyone is safe,” Kriseman said. “We are stepping up [safety] efforts.”
Kriseman noted that the first Pride parade in New York in 1970 commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a weeklong upheaval between New York youths and police after a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar. St. Petersburg’s Pride parade is one of the largest in the Southeast, attracting about 70,000 people.
Officials said they’re estimating that crowd could grow this year as those who don’t usually attend come to stand in solidarity and support members of the LGBT community.
“We firmly believe the best way to honor those who lost their lives, who were injured … is to make sure we are not afraid,” Kriseman said. “Pride was formed from violence, and I’ll be damned if we’re going to let violence stop us from going forward with this event.”
Holloway echoed Kriseman, saying, “We’re ready. Nothing is going to stop us having this event.”
Holloway said Pride is one of St. Pete’s largest annual events and, as such, police and other public safety officials make a lot of preparations. But, after Sunday’s events, Holloway said he met with his command staff and St. Pete Pride organizers. They discussed canceling or moving the night parade to daytime, but decided against it.
Canceling or changing plans like that, he said, would send a message that “we’re giving in. We’re changing our lifestyle” because of them.
Instead, the decision was made to call in other local, state and federal support. Those include Clearwater police, the Pinellas County Sheriff, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI. Holloway said parade- and festivalgoers will see more uniformed officers on the streets, but there will also be many plainclothes detectives and others in the crowd. And two sky towers will be brought in — those are mobile towers that let officers get a bird’s-eye view of the scene.
Also, detectives will be monitoring the department’s TIP 411 text and photo messaging system. If anyone sees anything, he said, they should send should send a text and/or photo and a detective will let the officers on the street know what’s happening.
“We’re prepared for anything,” Holloway said.
Holloway said the department had fielded several questions from parade participants and others about bringing their guns.
“No,” he said. “Please do not bring your weapons to this event.”
It’s hard enough in a crowd to tell the good guys who aren’t in uniform from bad guys, he said. And, an officer seeing a weapon, will have to spend time deciding if there’s a danger or not. That slows response time.
Holloway also assured those who might want to protest the event that they could do so as long as it’s in one of the free speech zones. Those are located at Central Avenue and 27th Street.
The St. Pete Pride parade is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. and expected to last until about 11 p.m. June 25. Road closures will begin about 2 p.m. The Pride Festival is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 26. Street closures are expected to start about 8 a.m.
Gulfport was also holding a safety meeting Thursday morning to discuss preparations for the Pride 5K that runs in Gulfport from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. the morning of the St. Pete Pride parade.
Public safety officials could not be reached for comment about any special preparations for the event.