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Faithful African-American Day Parade participants have voiced their dissatisfaction with the gradual and consistent changes that have occurred with the parade. As the parade reached its 43rd year, many are claiming that the traditions of the parade are being phased out. The African American Day Parade was established in 1969 to promote unity and economic empowerment for descendants of chattel slavery in America. The parade allowed Americanized-Africans to showcase their annual achievements and highlight their glorious heritage, simultaneously promoting dignity, pride and unity.
The ominous police presence has disenfranchised many faithful parade participants. “The brother who started it [Benny Krim] would turn over in his grave if he knew what this parade has become,” said lifelong Harlemite and Cop Watch activist Jazz Hayden, 71. “The chief groups are the corrections, police departments—city and state. It’s become a law enforcement parade. They’re the biggest groups and contingents here—the same ones running those prisons, putting our youth against the wall, sending [them] to jail.” Hayden added, “To have all of our Black elected officials embracing Police Commissioner [Ray] Kelly [on 111th Street] like he’s doing a good thing in Harlem, and he’s somebody that we are proud of, and happy to have in Harlem, on African-American Day.” [Laughs.] “How do you do this?”
A descendant of parents who were members of the Harlem Black Panthers, Pat, 42, is furious with the increased presence of law enforcement at the parade. “We need a revolution! She exclaimed. “The pigs aren’t doing their job. Look at ’em just standing there.” She gestured toward two stationary cops who were supposed to be guiding people at the 127th Street intersection but were just jawing as pedestrians hurriedly scurried between parade partitions—until a sergeant stepped on the scene.
Another faithful parade participant, Larry, attributes the ailing tradition of the parade to political representative’s lack of interest in enforcing initiatives to address issues concerning the African-American community. “They’re whittling away at this parade, little by little. They’re destroying it, and that’s because our political representatives have fallen asleep on their job,” he said.
Fans of the parade cite the African-American Day Parade’s shortened distance and hours, ethnic relocation and increased police patrols as obvious signs of a not-so-harmonious future for Harlem.