Under pressure, N. Brookfield selectmen postpone July 4 parade

If Black Lives Matter protesters can march down the streets, why not a July 4 parade?

That was the argument being made by selectmen in North Brookfield, a small Worcester-area town with an unusually public rift between the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Health over whether to hold a community gathering despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Or at least, it was the argument being made until Tuesday night when the selectman postponed the celebration – blaming the Board of Health. “For overtly hypocritical and purely political reasons, the (Board of Health) opposed this small event as a serious public health threat,” the selectmen wrote in a news release quoted by the Telegram & Gazette.

“The Board of Selectmen are cognizant of the incendiary times in which we are living and unlike the members of the Board of Health who seem arbitrarily concerned with public health only when it fits their political ideology, we will not expose our residents to the public health and public safety risks artificially created by the BOH’s unconstitutional silencing of the free expression of their neighbors,” they wrote.

Even the postponement was not without confusion. WCVB-TV reported Tuesday night that the Board of Selectmen posted on Facebook that they were postponing the event. The selectmen wrote that they envisioned an event with fewer than 250 town residents, and they blamed the Board of Health for alerting the news media – which effectively invited thousands of potential visitors to the town and created a public health risk. However, WCVB reported that the post had been taken down, and it was unclear whether the event was actually being postponed.

It is still not clear when and if the event will be rescheduled.

The Telegram & Gazette first reported on Sunday that the three-member board of selectmen had approved the town’s first-ever July 4 celebration, complete with a parade, beer garden, children’s events, and a laser show. The move came as other cities and towns are cancelling their major events, from July 4 fireworks to the Big E fair in West Springfield.

“The position of the board on this issue is if Black Lives Matter can protest down the center of Main Street, on the sidewalk, all on top of each other, and congregate on a church common, all on top of each other, then the people of North Brookfield can march separated down Main Street onto the Town Common,” Selectmen Chairman Daley Kiley said at a public meeting. Kiley told the Telegram & Gazette that he believes fears of COVID-19 are overblown.

In response, the North Brookfield Board of Health publicly condemned the event and said any liability should fall on the Board of Selectmen.

The Boston Globe reported that Board of Health member Ethan Melad said at a meeting the planned gathering “poses a serious health risk” to residents while violating state guidelines.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive order prohibits large, organized recreational gatherings and events like street festivals, although it allows outdoor gatherings for the purpose of political expression – like the recent Black Lives Matter protests. Kiley told the Globe he believes July 4 events are protected by a First Amendment right to free assembly.

Baker, asked about the issue at a press conference Tuesday, said, “large gatherings come with consequences.”

“It’s our hope most folks don’t do big large July 4 gatherings, and for the most part across the Commonwealth, they’re not,” Baker said. Baker said the Department of Public Health has been talking to the North Brookfield select board and public health department, and he hopes town officials will acknowledge that their planned celebration violates state gathering rules.



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