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Freddie Fixer Defies The Skeptics

by Thomas MacMillan | May 17, 2010 6:27 am

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Posted to: Dixwell, Newhallville

Thomas MacMillan Photo Marchers strutted proudly past a Dixwell mini-mart. The air was filled with the sound of thundering drums, not gunfire.

It was sound of the Freddie Fixer parade marching on—and defying fears caused by the recent rash of neighborhood violence in Dixwell and Newhallville.

Hundreds of people turned out Sunday afternoon for the parade, the black community’s signature annual public celebration. It has been struggling in recent years to overcome concerns about having a massive event along the main corridor of a community plagued by gunfire. Two years ago, the parade was canceled altogether because of fears of violence.

But organizers marched on, and Sunday’s peaceful event marked a strong resurgence of the parade. Organizer Maurice Smith said four times as many people attended as last year.

The parade went smoothly from a policing perspective too, according to Captain Joann Peterson. There were no major incidents and no parade-related arrests.

The Nation, New Haven’s championship drum and drill team, was once again the centerpiece of the parade. The squad marched in front of the mini mart on Dixwell Avenue where Tywan “Sookie” Turner was gunned down on April 10.

Turner was the 11th homicide victim of the year. His death came at the end of a spate of violence, including two double-homicide weekends in a row, and a body found in a trash can.

Those violent incidents caused aldermen to think twice about supporting this year’s Freddie Fixer parade. At the Board of Aldermen meeting on May 3, lawmakers stopped short of encouraging people to attend the parade, citing concerns about the recent gun violence.

But hundreds of people turned out anyway. Neighbors stood and sat on Dixwell Avenue watching drum and drill teams, motorcycle and SUV clubs, firefighters, city officials and others pass by.

The Presidents Motorcycle Club joined several other local clubs who revved their engines as they meandered down Dixwell. The club lost a founder and captain in a motorcycle accident in New Haven last year.

Mayor John DeStefano worked the crowd, hustling to keep up with the head of the parade after stopping to shake hands.

William McNeil sat in a folding chair as he watched the parade roll by. He said he remembers when Freddie Fixer began, in 1960. “It used to be a great big parade,” he said. Then came the troubles with youth violence. “That slowed everything right down,” he said.

Down the street, Anthony Richardson was cooking up hot dogs and hamburgers for friends and family.

Organizer Maurice Smith weaved through the action, snapping pictures with his cell phone. He was collecting evidence of the good times. “To make sure we can convince these people that it’s not about violence,” Smith said.

In addition to the Nation drum and drill squad, several other step teams stomped and twirled down Dixwell. Bridgeport’s P.T. Barnum Diversity Steppers, led by 16-year-olds Octavia Fewell and Alisha Freelove, featured steppers as young as 4 years old. Click play to see them warming up before the parade and footage of the Nation performing for a crowd.

But New Haven’s Nation had the most steppers, the fanciest uniforms, and the loudest drums. The squad drew the biggest reaction from onlookers. Police had to push people back onto the sidewalk to make room as the Nation passed before the parade’s reviewing stand at the Dixwell Plaza.

In the background, the shuttered Q House stood empty. The Q House was once a vibrant community center for youth; some are working to bring it back.

Up the street, the parade passed by the site of a more recent loss. Grass grew in a vacant lot where an apartment building recently stood, until it was destroyed by a three-alarm fire exactly one month before this year’s Freddie Fixer parade.

After the parade, Maurice Smith was bubbling over with excitement. “I’m walking on air right now,” he said.

Smith took the quadrupled size of the crowd as a sign: people are “fed up with being afraid.”

The huge turnout was the neighborhood saying, “We don’t have to deal with this nonsense,” Smith said. People are sending a message that they will not be intimidated by violence, Smith said.

“We got it back today,” he said. “Freddie’s back for real.”

“We had a good day,” said Captain Peterson after the parade. There were no major incidents and no arrests made at the parade, except for a warrant arrest that was unrelated to the event, she said. “It was just a nice day for the police department and the community to come together.”

WTNH reported that a police bomb squad detonated a suspicious briefcase along the parade route after the march went by. It turned out to be full of papers.


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posted by: Threefifths on May 17, 2010  8:18am

Mayor John DeStefano worked the crowd, hustling to keep up with the head of the parade after stopping to shake hands.

He worked the crowd alright. Check him out.

posted by: Alderman Greg Morehead on May 17, 2010  9:12am

The parade was a great event on yesterday and I’m glad I was part of it.  It was a beautiful day and a large number of residents came out to support this annual event.  Thanks Maurice for not giving up on making the parade happen despite of what critics tried to say and do.  It was a peaceful day! Thank GOD!!!

posted by: Alan Felder on May 17, 2010  9:48am

Reporter Thomas McMillan you reference violence eight times, we have to consciously stop feeding the negative stereotypes that are common when reporting about the Black community, and when you report about violence how could you not mention former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove? “Violence is Black Children going to school for 12 years and receiving 6 years worth of education” Julian Bond

posted by: Anon on May 17, 2010  10:12am

I take exception at times to choices Macmillan has made in his coverage but I disagree on this story and don’t believe he had the ability to slant it politically the way you suggest to him.

The framing of a story is really important, and often will contain all the clues about bias or lack of diligence you would ever want, but in this case, there is no frame that I could think of that could ethically allow him to omit information about violence that has been associated with the parade in the past.

He actually failed to mention that it wasn’t just recent violence in the community, but shootings that have taken place in the crowd of spectators during past parades. One year, at the parade, a shooter deliberately and knowingly fired in front of, right in front of police. He didn’t even care. So, of course that was the basis of worry about the parade.

And I know bunches of drunk jerks start problems at other parades, such as st. pat’s. That does bear keeping in mind and I hope Macmillan took the trouble to make a comparison in his research for this story. I would say he was ethically required to do that to provide fair and even coverage of this parade: in context, in comparison.

I am glad the parade is back. Congratulations to Maurice Smith and the parade participants and the whole Dixwell/Whalley community. Kudos to all. Darn good job. The community took back its parade.

posted by: Cross Teacher on May 17, 2010  10:23am

I’m getting a little tired of the Julian Bond quote, especially related to New Haven Public Schools.  Education is not a one-way gift to be “received.”  His quote implies that education is a passive activity, of the teacher imparting skills and knowledge to the student. 

However, education must go both ways, with the student participating and actively pursuing the skills and knowledge.  Too often I see students who refuse to take part in their own education, choosing to stay home or to do nothing in class.  Contacting their parents often results in minimal change.

I’m not saying that this is the only reason for low student achievement.  However, any student can come to the NHPS and get their 13 years’ worth of education, regardless of their skin color.

posted by: Anon on May 17, 2010  10:44am

The Julian Bond quote is out of context anyway. Bond is a really smart guy.

When home is stable, schooling gets done, when home isn’t, it doesn’t. That’s one giant factor in whether kids come out with 5,8, 10 or 13 years of education out of 13 years in school.

When parents, so often that means moms, are struggling to keep food on the table and a roof overhead, kids are in NO Condition to learn, period. When things stabilize, mom finds a job, stops moving to keep a roof overhead, kids who want to learn spring back.

Talk to kids, young adults, who have gone through this. As long as the school was not a joke and contributing to the problem, they will often relay personal histories just like that. Over and over this story is repeated.

Kids who aren’t healthy, aren’t eating right, yes, a lot of them are literally in poor physical shape, they can’t learn. Does no one get this?

If you are privileged to have grown up with stability, remember that and consider the difference.

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on May 17, 2010  12:07pm

Cross Teacher, The mayor’s school reform initiative isn’t called the “Parent reform initiative” or the “Student reform initiative”.  The effort is focused on the management of our schools and the quality of instruction.  ... Accept the challenge to figure out how you can be the best teacher that you can be.

posted by: Dixwell Livin on May 17, 2010  1:19pm

so everytime there a shootin we get to see the aldermen standin up saying how everything is bad and blaming everybody else.

we have a good parade with no violence and we only get a few elected officials.  wheres jackie james and gary holder winfield and blango and goldson when theres something positive going on in the community?
you all come around after some kid gets shot but you are to good to show up for freddie fixer.  i give points to morehead and the mayor for coming.

posted by: Hood Rebel on May 17, 2010  3:59pm

Folks in the community are thrilled that this event turned out to be positive for all involved.

posted by: New to New Haven on May 17, 2010  5:13pm

Congratulations to everyone who planned and ran the event! Nice to see such success and good news.

posted by: Maribel Aguilar on May 17, 2010  5:22pm

It’s so glad to see that the parade went on without a hitch.  It’s a shame that they only decided with 6 weeks to plan, but if it was a success, then more power to them.  I remember marching in that parade as a child and was saddened to see that it was stopped due to violence.I sincerely hope that the the true message of this parade and it’s roots are never lost in New Haven and to it’s children.  New Haven can only benefit from having this true gem.

To the Committee, I wish you the best of luck in planning next years’ parade.

posted by: Guy on May 18, 2010  8:39am

Freddie Fixer defies the Skeptics and pays their $22,000 overdue bill from last years parade and the entire balance owed for this years parade… that would be something.

posted by: Alkmad on May 25, 2010  2:12pm

“The Presidents Motorcycle Club joined several other local clubs who revved their engines as they meandered down Dixwell. The club lost a founder and captain in a MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT in New Haven last year.”

Anyone else catch the irony that these guys aren’t wearing any helmets in the photo????

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