BRADENTON, Fla. – Nancy King scrapes a piece of chalk across the sidewalk along Manatee Avenue. “K-I-N-G” she spells out in large letters in front of two red chairs she has tied to a light pole.
“We've been coming out here for 30 years to watch the parades,” she says. “And this is our spot.”
She is not alone in staking out a space along the Hernando DeSoto Historical Society's Grand Parade route. When more than 150,000 people attend the annual parade in Bradenton, more police will join them than usual, an effect here on the Suncoast from the Boston Marathon Bombing April 15.
“I believe our security awareness was heightened after the Boston tragedy,” says Capt. Warren Merriman of the Bradenton Police. He says that after the bombing, Bradenton wanted to have a more visible police presence at the parade, and asked for help from surrounding city police departments. Officers from Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach, Palmetto and the campus police at New College will join Bradenton officers and Manatee County Sheriff's deputies on patrol at the parade. “Each block will have two officers,” says Merriman.
Parade organizers say that whatever new precautions become part of the event, they do not fear for its security. “I'll say at this point, no,” says parade chairman Chris Wilkinson.
He says parade planners work with police months in advance to ensure people's safety, adding that they can't let one attack somewhere else cause fear that ruins other events, too.
“People can't stop living,” Wilkinson says. “And we do need to keep having celebrations.”
Police will not prohibit things like coolers or backpacks from the parade, but ask parade-goers to report anything suspicious they see to police.
Nancy King says the parade gives her and her family an occasion to celebrate, and she will do so again, in the same way, and in the same place, that she has for decades. Asked if she worries about the event being a target, she says, “No. I've never felt unsafe out here.”
The DeSoto Heritage Grand Parade begins at 6:30pm Saturday. For more information, visit the DeSoto Historical Society website.