WAKE FOREST, N.C. -- Wake Forest town leaders reportedly voted to cancel this year’s Christmas parade due to the "potential for violence."
In a video posted to Facebook, Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones says "based on information we have received in recent days, this year's event has the potential to be one marked not by marching bands and Santa Claus but instead by protests between clashing groups from outside Wake Forest with innocent bystanders caught in the middle."
Police officials reported they were given credible information recently that growing numbers of outside groups planned to go to the parade to either support or oppose the Sons & Daughters of the Confederacy.
“Groups that contact us about their plans to protest tend to follow our rules and regulations,” said Wake Forest Police Chief Jeff Leonard. “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.”
Leonard said his department received credible information that in less than two days, a group that planned to “show up” at the parade grew in number from less than 10 to over 200.
The protests are planned around a Confederate float that has been in the Christmas parade for decades, WNCN reports.
“We aren’t happy telling kids they can’t attend or participate in this year’s parade – but it’s better than trying to explain to a parent whose child was injured why we chose to proceed despite so many warning signs,” Leonard said. “No matter what side of this issue you are on, our focus is public safety and at this point, the risk of moving forward with the parade simply outweighs any possible reward.”
Jones says she supports the decision to cancel the parade but was “angry, disappointed and heartbroken."
“I love Wake Forest, but even more I love the people of Wake Forest,” Jones said. “(The decision to cancel) is an unfortunate consequence of what happens when outside agitators use local events like ours to sow hate and spark chaos.”
Town officials plan to meet early next year to plan future parades and try to stop outside groups from interfering.