By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
NOVEMBER 1Amid a booing crowd and with little warning, New York City police officers pulled the Village Voice float from the 27th annual Village Halloween Parade last night.
Police spokespeople declined to comment, saying they didn't have enough information about the incident. But the paper's top executive says the Voice will likely sue the city.
"This is an outrageous suppression of our rights. It certainly seems more than coincidental that we've aggressively reported on police issues over the years," publisher Judy Miszner said in a prepared statement. "We're exploring all legal options against the NYPD and the City of New York. We expect an apology and reimbursement for all damages related to the loss we suffered."
The float, which was designed by Bond Floats of New Jersey, was just two blocks into the downtown parade when police stepped into the boisterous scene on Sixth Avenue and cut the Voice's sound system, silencing DJ Steve Travolta's music. Drag performers, including Fabian and Miss Understood, were on the float along with several Voice employees.
Promotions director Jen Gapay, who was supervising the Voice contingent, says police initially gave her no reason for the shutdown. Gapay says float riders tried to comply with a police request for several people to get off the flatbed, even though it didn't appear to have an unusually large number of revelers. Then cops ordered everyone off the truck and the float out of the parade, she says. "Not until the moment that they were pulling people off the float did I even know that there was a problem," she says. "And I'm the person that was in charge of the float."
According to some of the estimated 20 people kicked off the float, some officers at the parade said they were just following orders. In the confusion, officers gave conflicting reasons for the removal. "One cop specifically said, 'I don't know why we're doing this. I wish they would tell us why we're doing this so we could tell you,' " says Gapay.
Some Voice employees were told by the officers that the float was "unsafe" because a wheel was supposedly coming off the flatbed truck. One officer told this reporter, "You guys were acting inappropriately." One employee says an officer told her the riders "were all drunk," then admitted that's just what he'd been told.
Gapay and another Voice employee left Sixth Avenue to appeal for assistance at the temporary headquarters police had set up on Bleecker Street. Gapay says the cops there were slow to help, and even jokingly suggested the paper's coverage of the NYPD was to blame for the minimal response. "They said, you're from The Village Voice. Why should we help you? You guys are always writing bad things about us," she recalls. "And then there was this other officer, (who said,) 'I shouldn't even do this, since you're from the Voice, but I'll go find out why the float was pulled.' "
Gapay has another theory for the crackdown. One float performer, Lola Rock 'n' Rolla, was dressed as a giant vagina for the nationally televised event. "I think it had something to do with the pussy," Gapay says. "I think they didn't want that on TV."
The float was halted before reaching the TV cameras. Adam Davis, a videographer filming the parade, has tape of an officer and a parade official lifting the skirt off the Voice float, shining a flashlight for what Davis describes as "one second" and then shortly afterward ordering people off the float. On the tape, a cop is heard explaining, "Float was overloaded, tires were low, and they said it was unsafe."
Parade organizers say they were unaware that the float had been yanked until a Voice employee told them what had happened. Parade director Jeanne Fleming says police haven't banned a float for many years. She says this year one other float was removed, because it was deemed too large.
The Voice's troubles continued after the float was tossed. When riders who'd been booted attempted to retrieve their belongings, police told them they were holding up the parade and would have to wait until the party ended. The police were "very harsh about it," says advertising account manager Lauren Drandoff. Left on a side street, the truck and float were later found vandalized.
The whole affair "felt like an ambush," says DJ Travolta, "or a surprise attack."