Spanish Town association worried about parade’s impact on neighborhood’s reputation

The Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade rolls on Saturday, and members of the Spanish Town Civic Association are worried the controversial statements from paraders in the past are hurting the neighborhood’s reputation.

“There’s always a concern,” says Darryl Gissel, a Spanish Town resident and member of the association. “Spanish Town is probably the most diverse neighborhood in the whole city and it’s a melting pot and we all blend together very well. … We do have a concern about people always thinking the parade is the neighborhood, unfortunately, and they are two separate groups.”

On Feb. 16, association chair Mary Jane Marcantel said in a letter addressed to the parade’s organizers  that the event has become a de facto extension of Spanish Town, even though it’s not regulated or controlled by the neighborhood. She asked leaders of the Society for the Preservation of Lagniappe in Louisiana, which organizes the parade, to send the letter to individual krewes to ensure that any issues are directed at those who created the controversy, not the neighborhood itself.

“We have been wrongly labeled sexist and racist for something we have no control over,” Marcantel says in an interview. “What I am trying to do is direct the attention away from Spanish Town to whoever creates the issue.”

Marcantel also said in the letter the SPLL has done a “remarkable” job over the years and emphasized the neighborhood has nothing to do with the parade. She says she has not heard back from members of the parade since sending the letter, and does not know what to expect.

The Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade, which starts on Spanish Town Road and travels through downtown Baton Rouge, came under fire last year for parodies of the Black Lives Matter movement. Among the controversial displays were a #PinkLivesMatter float and a #FlamingoLivesMatter float depicting a flamingo, the parade’s mascot, being hit with a police nightstick and punched in the head while wearing a sign that read “I can’t breathe.”

Critics decried the float as crossing the line of satire, calling it racist and saying it made light of the death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man who died in police custody after a New York City police officer placed him in a chokehold. In a video that went viral, Garner can be heard repeatedly telling officers that he could not breathe. The Los Angeles Times thrust the parade’s 2016 controversies into the national spotlight after the viral death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling at the hands of Baton Rouge police last summer.

Bill Brumfield, an SPLL board member, says he doesn’t know what to expect from the floats or whether the parade will be toned down this year.

“As I have repeatedly said, we do not censor floats,” Brumfield says. “Right now I’m of the opinion it should be kind of wild and zany, and I don’t know what will be on the floats.”

Parade organizers in January posted a message to the parade’s Facebook page encouraging inclusiveness in this year’s event. The authors of the post were members of the Prancing Babycakes, a popular marching krewe that has participated in the Spanish Town parade for several years.

The krewe’s members said they were considering dropping out of the parade this year, but met with members of the krewe that organized the controversial floats and decided to stay.

“I thought it was really brave of that person to come and meet with us face to face,” Prancing Babycakes organizer Erin Rolfs told Daily Report at the time. “They understand now that it caused some pain for people, so I think that conversation was really critical to us feeling comfortable … and when the Babycakes came out of that discussion they felt a lot better about understanding where everybody came from.”

—Sam Karlin

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