CHICAGO — Activist Ja'Mal Green interrupted a press conference Thursday organized by the Defender Charities about the Bud Billiken Parade, shouting that police should be banned and claiming the event is now more about "twerking and booty shaking" than promoting education.
While the parade's spokeswoman Kristal Davis addressed media at Northwestern University, Green shouted at her that the parade is about children and that law enforcement shouldn't be able to march in the event.
"Our black people are getting killed" by law enforcement, he said, adding that if the parade wanted to save money and time then they should exclude politicians and cops.
The press conference was called by parade organizers to answer questions about a decision by the South Shore Drill team to pull out of the parade. That well-known team decided not to participate after event organizers began enforcing rules limiting the number of participants any one group could have in order to speed up the procession.
Reports of the drill team incident led some to call for a boycott of the annual parade, begun in 1929 by the publisher of the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper, and staged on the second Saturday in August on King Drive through Washington Park.
Davis said Defender Charities did not force the drill team out. The team registered July 15, after the June 30 deadline, saying it had 100 participants.
"When they filled out their registration form, they said they had 100 so there was never a need for any additional conversation to take place with them or with any of the groups," she said. Last year, the drill team sent 241 people.
Officials decided to shorten the parade this year to cut costs, which can be half a million dollars, Davis said. Children also have to stand for hours in the heat if they're at the back of the parade waiting for their turn to march, she said. The community loves and welcomes the parade, but six hours is too long to inconvenience area residents, Davis added.
Rules about group sizes have existed for years, though parade organizers last year became stricter about enforcing them, Davis said. Organizers have made exceptions, Davis said, but the South Shore Drill team never asked for one.
Team officials have said they did not want to exclude any members, who are between ages 8 and 24.
At the press conference at the university, 700 E. Oakwood, parents shouted and clapped, saying that the parade is about children and they shouldn't have to suffer.
Green is calling for a boycott of the Bud Billiken Parade because he says it is now more focused on "booty shaking" than education and activism, a charge parade organizers say is untrue.
Green, an anti-violence and anti-police brutality activist, said he was denied permission to march in the parade Saturday because he wanted to use it to speak out against police brutality. No groups with that message will be allowed to participate, charged Green, who also said he was allowed to join the parade in the past when he was speaking out against gun violence.
"Which is ridiculous because it's a black parade and black people are getting killed every day by police," Green said. "The Bud Billiken Parade would have been used as a platform to continue to wake people up, continue to put the protest and activism in their face."
Green, who faces felony charges after allegedly hitting a police officer during a police brutality protest, said he and other activists were calling for a boycott of the parade unless organizers made changes, and there would be several protests at the parade.
But Davis said the group's application to participate came in after the parade's deadline and the parade was full. There are groups with an anti-police brutality message marching, she said, citing the Youth Against Violence Organization and Young Blacks In Action Community Band and Dancettes.
"Those are just two of the activist groups that we do have in the parade that are speaking out against violence in the community and police brutality," Davis said.
Youth Against Violence Organization, a Rockford-based group, is an "anti-violent and substance abuse prevention program" that works with young people, according to its website, which does not mention police brutality. Young Blacks in Action, a Florida musical and dancing group, works to develop "artistic talents and capacities, to promote self-actualization and to elevate Orlando-area youth," according to its website, which also does not mention police brutality.
Green said there was a lack of anti-police brutality activists at the parade show and that it has become more focused on dancing and entertainment than social issues. Organizers need to "go back to their roots," he said.
"It used to be about education, and because it's not about education anymore. It's about a lot of twerking and booty shaking," Green said. "Now they're saying they don't want anybody that's a part of a movement to be a part of the parade. [Activism] would have aligned the educational piece."
Davis said the parade lives up to its education focus.
"The children who participate in the dance groups and marching bands pretty much begin practicing once the parade is over," Davis said. "They can't participate in these organizations unless their grades are good and they're doing well in school, so it does tie into education. Everyone who participate in this parade [is] part of organizations that value education."
That participation also keeps young people off the streets, away from violence and involved in extracurricular programs, Davis said.
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