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Parade float portraying children in cages draws complaints

January 4, 2019

MIDDLETOWN, Del. (AP) — A parade float portraying children in cages at the U.S. border has drawn criticism from politicians and community activists, who say the event in a Delaware town has gone too far this time.

The News Journal of Wilmington report ed Thursday that the Hummer’s Parade held each New Year’s Day in Middletown began in 1971 as a spoof of Philadelphia’s Mummer’s Parade. It typically draws a few complaints, but state Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, said some of this year’s floats “took a mean and nasty turn.”

“This went more than close to the edge. It went over the edge and it has to be called out,” said Hansen, who saw the display in person.

Delaware’s Senate Democrats said the event crossed “a line from tongue-in-cheek irreverence to poor taste.”

“It is fine — even healthy — to poke fun at politicians, ideologies, and celebrities, but satire is best when it is aimed at the prominent and powerful; jokes about children in cages and the humanitarian crisis at the border are simply ‘punching down,’” the caucus posted on Facebook. “The tenor of these displays is divisive, mean-spirited, and entirely counter to our state’s values.”

But parade participant Michael Wipf, who hid baby dolls taped to his chest under a blanket and walked alongside signs reading “Not Mexican I’m Russian Let Me In,” said people who don’t like the parade don’t have to attend.

“That’s a line I probably wouldn’t have crossed, but that’s his prerogative to do what he wants,” Wipf said. “No one made a comment when they drug the cooler down the street with Anne Marie Fahey’s arm hanging out. When I dressed up as Michael Vick, no one commented about that. If you don’t like it, don’t show up.”

Fahey was the scheduling secretary for then-Gov. Tom Carper who was killed by her former boyfriend in 1996. He stuffed her into an ice chest; her remains were never found. In 2007, NFL quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty to his part in a criminal dogfighting enterprise, leading to jail time and suspension from the league.

A native of Townsend who now lives in Virginia spearheaded the controversial float. John Bingham hinted during the line-up that the dog cages on a trailer were not all they had planned.

One member of his group dressed in soiled underpants, curled up in a cage and was marched down the street.

Jack Schreppler, the parade’s self-proclaimed “disorganizer,” said in an email Thursday that he leads the parade but he doesn’t regulate the content.

Mayor Kenneth Branner said the town isn’t involved with the parade other than to provide police for traffic control. He described the border detention center float as “pretty offensive.”

“There have been floats in previous years that have been offensive, but the bottom line is we don’t have anything to do with the parade,” he said. “You can’t stop anybody from assembling and walking down the street. Freedom of speech is the other side of this and we pay close attention to that.”

Community advocate and former U.S. Senate candidate Kerri Evelyn Harris and others are asking people offended by the parade to attend the Monday meeting of the Middletown council meeting to voice their concerns.

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