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Sunset Park Puerto Rican parade gets permit for first time in decades

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Viva los Boricuas!

For the first time in 20 years, Sunset Parkers will have the city’s blessing when they take to Fifth Avenue on Puerto Rican Day on June 14.

The avenue has long been the de facto gathering place for neighborhood revellers returning from the annual parade held in Manhattan, but the lack of a parade permit and a history of tensions between residents and police made the unsanctioned marches a powder keg that routinely burst into brawls between locals and law enforcement, according to this year’s organizers. By formalizing the fete with a parade permit, organizers hope to keep tensions well below the boiling point, an official said.

“I believe that there has to be some sort of change,” said Dennis Flores, parade organizer and head of police watchdog group El Grito de Sunset Park. “We have to create something new to prevent the same thing from happening every year.”

Residents have flooded Fifth Avenue following the Manhattan parade for decades, Flores said. It became so routine that he said police would close the avenue to traffic. The street closures prompted more people to leave the sidewalk — though they technically weren’t allowed to, Flores said. Police would then tell people to get out of the street and conflicts would erupt.

The dynamic created more harm than good, according to this year’s parade marshal.

“People mingling with traffic is serious and dangerous, but what ended up happening is that police closing the street became a source of fights breaking out,” said Javier Nieves, who organized city-sanctioned Puerto Rican Day Parades in the 1980s and also served as an assemblyman in the 1990s.

Blood hit the pavement during last year’s parade, when police battered and arrested a 17-year-old kid they accused of attacking cops. Police later dropped the charges, admitting in a letter to the boy’s attorney that the officer who claimed in a criminal complaint to have witnessed the attack was actually nowhere nearby when the alleged attack occurred.

The official parade and festival starts at 5 pm, but a longtime festival organizer suggested folks are likely to hit the streets early.

“I’m glad that the parade going to come back to Sunset Park, and I pray that both the people and the police will work together, because its going to be a full-day celebration,” said Pat Ruiz, who organized the now-defunct Boricua Festival in Prospect Park and later the Sunset Park waterfront.

Sunset Park Puerto Rican Day Parade on Fifth Avenue from 59th Street to 43rd Street at 5 pm. Festival in Sunset Park (43rd Street and Fifth Avenue) at 7:30 pm. Flores is asking for financial support for the parade via a crowd-funding website at www.gofundme.com/SPPRParade2015.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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