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As part of Black Pride weekend, People of Color in Crisis (POCC) has for the past five years hosted an annual HIV-testing and party extravaganza at Jacob Riis Beach. This year, the party hit a snag when the National Park Service initially denied the application for the event and then approved a permit a week before the Beach party that would have gutted the event scheduled for today.
An August 1 letter, sent to POCC by the National Park Service, said, “The last special event . . . resulted in the violation of a number of NPS policies and conditions that were stipulated in the event [Special Use Permit], including the requirement that the event be limited to no more than 1,500 participants, the failure to remove trash, the obstruction of the boardwalk, driving vehicles on the boardwalk after 10:30 a.m., and failure to shut down the event by 5:00 p.m.”
The Park Service had denied the initial permit in February. The letter went on to say that, after “countless hours of discussion,” the Park Service was willing to allow a single location for HIV testing, but “entertainment will not be allowed nor will amplified music,” and the crowd capacity would be limited to 200. Among other conditions organizers were required to posting a bond for $7,500.
Unsurprisingly, the event organizers did not see this as an act of generosity. POCC Executive Director Gary English issued a response arguing that the terms were contrary to an agreement negotiated between Congressman Anthony Weiner and the NPS. “This is our fifth year holding this event at Jacob Riis Beach. There have been no arrests or violence, drug overdoses, rude behavior, etc.,” English wrote. “We picked up the trash; we left the beach cleaner than we found it and we did not obstruct the boardwalk. . . . It saddens us to have to confront racism and homophobia, during this time we should be celebrating the Black LGBT community.”
Judging from e-mails flying around and comments left on blogs , response from black LGBT people ranged from acknowledgement of some of the Park Service’s claims to outrage and a refusal to abide by the conditions. One person commenting under the handle “Doug Cooper-Spencer” wrote, “I sent off my barrage of letters [to public officials]. Everyone else should do so as well as SHOW UP TO RIIS BEACH ON SUNDAY.”
The letters, phone calls, and strong community resistance seem to have had an effect. By week’s end, the Parks Service had agreed to allow “low-decibel” live music and upped the attendance restriction to 1,500, but still hasn’t allowed use of the beach for live music.
English calls it a “partial victory,” while blogger and Black Pride activist Keith Boykin, says “Vamos a La Playa!”