Columbus parade to march on

By Howard Pankratz
Denver Post Staff Writer

Post / Glenn Asakawa
Parade protester Glenn Morris, at a news conference Tuesday in Denver, outlines actions he’d like the city to take regarding the Columbus Day parade.

The 2005 Columbus Day parade will go ahead as planned in Denver, one of its key organizers said Tuesday, even as several groups called for the repeal of Columbus Day as a state and national holiday.

"It's ... celebrating our heritage. We will have our motorcycle guys, we will have our floats, the older people and the younger children," said George Vendegnia, founder of the Sons of Italy-New Generation and a parade organizer.

Hours earlier, organizations representing the more than 200 protesters arrested for blocking last year's parade called for the repeal of Columbus Day as a state and national holiday. They also asked the mayor and City Council to take "the moral position that celebrations to Columbus are no longer welcome in Denver ..."

"This is consistent with Mayor (Federico) Peña and Mayor (Wellington) Webb telling the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis that they are not welcome in Denver," said Glenn Morris, one of the protest organizers acquitted last week.

"We expect no less from the mayor and the council with regard to the racist celebration and veneration of Columbus," Morris said.

On Tuesday, City Council members urged City Attorney Cole Finegan to draft stricter ordinances prohibiting people from blocking or disrupting assemblies such as parades.

Councilman Charlie Brown said he wants the tighter ordinances passed before Columbus Day in October.

"We've got to get the word out that we've got a new ordinance, and people's free speech will be protected," Brown said.

On Monday, Finegan said that in the aftermath of the acquittal of eight protest leaders, rulings by three county judges that resulted in some charges being dismissed and some evidence being ruled inadmissible, he would drop cases against 230 other protesters.

But Finegan said his office has begun work on drafting ordinances, modeled on state law, that make it illegal to disrupt a lawful assembly and to obstruct a highway or passageway.

The protesters believe they have a legal and moral right to block the Columbus Day parade because they believe it is a celebration of the genocide of Indians.

The protesters have based their argument on an April 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Virginia vs. Black. The Supreme Court held that people who burn crosses to intimidate others are not afforded the First Amendment protections of free speech.

The Columbus Day demonstrators equate the parade to the intimidation caused by cross burners.

"The First Amendment permits Virginia to outlaw cross burnings done with the intent to intimidate because burning a cross is a particularly virulent form of intimidation," the federal high court ruled. "Instead of prohibiting all intimidating messages, Virginia may choose to regulate a subset of intimidating messages in light of cross burning's long and pernicious history as a signal of impending violence."

The protesters and their lawyers argued during pretrial hearings and at last week's trial that Denver's Columbus Day parade intimidates Native Americans, particularly their children.

They claimed that parade participants hurled hard candy into the protesters in a malicious fashion and signaled displeasure with the protesters with obscene hand gestures and taunts.

But Vendegnia denied that and said it has been the parade marchers who have been intimidated. He said he and his children have been repeatedly threatened.

"I should let you listen to the blood-curdling threats I used to get about my children a few days before the parade," Vendegnia said.

"They (Denver police) make me wear a bulletproof vest in the parade. I've worn them the last three parades because I lead the parade. Police surround me with unmarked policemen. They surround me to make sure nothing happens to me," Vendegnia said.

The 2004 Columbus Day parade was delayed more than an hour when the demonstrators linked arms and knelt in the middle of the route.

Staff writer Kris Hudson contributed to this report.

Staff writer Howard Pankratz can be reached at 303-820-1939 or