Jul. 12—The executive director of Queen City Pride has sent a letter to city officials claiming the Manchester Police Department's handling of a suspicious vehicle at Arms Park that delayed the start of the June 18 Pride parade is indicative of "police protesting the queer community of Manchester."
Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg vehemently disagreed with Kyle Davis, calling the claim "beyond insulting" and a characterization he "will not stand for."
About an hour and a half before the city's first Pride parade was scheduled to step off, police were called to check on a box truck parked at Arms Park. They evacuated the area, pushing hundreds of people from Commercial Street up toward Elm Street. Two explosive-sniffing K9's checked the truck and signaled that explosives could be inside.
A state police explosives team responded, and the area eventually was determined to be safe. The search delayed the start of the parade by about 30 minutes.
"This is a baseless claim," Aldenberg said. "It is a direct character assassination of myself and the men and women of the police department that I lead. If I was to ever speak that way about any organization the mayor would want my job, and rightfully so, but somehow these organizations can do this — and do this publicly — and it's OK.
"We're a diverse community, and I'm all about doing my part to support everybody, but that does not give you a pass to disparage my police department in that manner."
While there was no threat, the incident put some festival-goers on edge — especially coming a week after several White nationalists were arrested in Idaho en route to disrupt a Pride festival there, and several other Pride-related events around the country were threatened or disrupted.
On Friday, Davis sent a letter to Mayor Joyce Craig, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Chief Aldenberg and others saying the actions of Manchester police before and during the start of the fifth annual Queen City Pride Festival resulted in "behaviors most aligned with fear mongering and misinformation."
"Police officers escorted the tow truck from the festival grounds by blaring sirens and horns to get people to 'move out of the way,'" Davis wrote. "Three times I asked officers to stop the sirens; three times I stood in front of the police cars imploring that we are people and we will peacefully escort you out of the festival with compassion for our guests.
"Upon the police presence exiting the festival grounds, there was a sigh of relief and safety."
Aldenberg said he spoke to one of the two K9 handlers, who said that when he and the other handler arrived at Arms Park, Davis approached them with concerns about the truck, which he said was not connected to the Pride events.
"What did he expect them to do? He raised a concern and they took action," Aldenberg said. "I can imagine what the narrative would be if they took no action and God forbid the truck blew up. I can't control if people in your community were insulted by the use of police sirens, which were utilized to clear a path for the vehicle to be towed from the park as quickly as possible so that the event could get underway."
Aldenberg said that after the incident, a number of festival-goers told him they appreciated the department's efforts and how seriously officers took the situation.
Aldenberg said for someone to claim his department engaged in "fear-mongering" is "despicable and unforgivable."
"I am unapologetic for the actions of the Manchester Police Department on June 18," Aldenberg said. "The state of NH and the city of Manchester is blessed to not be experiencing what other parts of the country are dealing with as it relates to active shooters, vehicular attacks on pedestrians at parades, and sniper attacks.
"I am sensitive to the struggles (the LGBTQ) community has experienced and continue to experience but to assert that myself and the dedicated men and women of the Manchester Police Department are or have caused your community further harm is baseless and it is an assertion that you should publicly apologize for.
"In the end, the event for June 18 was delayed by one half hour. In my opinion that is more than acceptable given the circumstances that we were presented with."
Mayor Joyce Craig said Monday the city's No. 1 priority is the safety of its residents and visitors.
"I'm grateful for Manchester Police Department's swift and thorough investigation at Queen City Pride," Craig said in a statement. "Community outreach and engagement, particularly within marginalized communities, is a focus of MPD under Chief Aldenberg's leadership, and I'm confident that they will continue to engage with members of the LGBTQIA+ community to ensure that everyone in Manchester feels safe and supported."
Late Monday afternoon, Davis issued a statement in response to Aldenberg's comments, saying his letter was not intended as a personal attack against the police chief or individual members on the force.
"Queen City Pride is committed to helping Manchester's LGBTQIA community raise awareness of the issues facing us and celebrating the value our identities bring to our families, friends, workplaces, and neighborhoods," Davis said.
"We have no doubt the Manchester Police Department shares our mission and we look forward to working with Chief Aldenberg and his leadership team in a collaborative way to address the concerns we have raised. We can learn from one another and will be a stronger city for all its residents and visitors because of it."