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woman marches in Bud Billiken Parade

The Morgan Park High School Marching Band in the 2017 Bud Billiken parade, Chicago, Saturday, August 12.

James Foster

After the Highland Park shooting, officials are ‘really focused’ on rooftops along Bud Billiken Parade route, top cop says

In light of the massacre at Highland Park’s Independence Day parade, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announced Monday that city officials are “really focused” on rooftops along the route of Saturday’s Bud Billiken Parade through the South Side.

Brown said city officials have been involved in planning the parade since March and have since ramped up discussions about “various aspects of security,” including the police resources dedicated to the parade.

The police department is specifically interested in rooftops and “other high ground areas in relation to that lesson learned from Highland Park,” he said.

The alleged shooter in that attack, Robert E. Crimo III, is accused of firing from a rooftop during the Fourth of July parade in the affluent northern suburb, leaving seven dead and 48 others wounded. Last Wednesday, he pleaded not guilty to 117 charges stemming from the mass shooting.

Having already hosted multiple parades this summer, Brown noted city officials are now taking “an urgent look at intelligence” focused on deployment numbers and the entry and exit points of the event.

Police officials also “do a lot of work the day before to look in and around the parade route to make sure that everything looks copacetic,” said Brown. He urged the public to “report something suspicious right away” while promising a “big contingent” of uniformed and plainclothes officers at the event.

He stressed that coordinating with organizers is ultimately “one of the key parts of what we can do to make sure it’s a really safe parade.”

Myiti Sengstacke-Rice, president and CEO of Chicago Defender Charities, which hosts the parade, thanked city officials who have “worked tirelessly to make sure that we have our staple parade be a success again.”

“We make sure that we have a safe and secure parade,” Sengstacke-Rice said. “We’re really excited about this year specifically because the communication has grown stronger between our team and the city of Chicago.”

Sengstacke-Rice said the parade already has “doubled down” on security efforts due to gun violence concerns in recent years.

“We start working with the Chicago Police Department in March, and we meet with them monthly,” Sengstacke-Rice said. “As we get closer to the parade we meet with them weekly, and then daily. We have our own security firm, and our security firm works with the police department, as well as Chicago Public Schools for safety.”

Sengstacke-Rice said security efforts have not specifically changed in light of the Highland Park mass shooting, and that the parade has always been “over prepared.”

Founded by her granduncle, the Chicago Defender’s founding publisher Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the Bud Billiken Parade has been held on the South Side since 1929. As the country’s largest African-American parade, the parade has hosted President Harry Truman, then-Sen. Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, among others.

Local R&B superstar Jeremih will serve as grand marshal in this year’s parade, with “staples” like the South Shore Drill Team and the Jesse White Tumblers providing entertainment, she said. The parade will return to its “normal route” this year, starting at 39th Street and proceeding south down King Drive to 55th Street.

“We’re here 93 years later and we are so grateful,” Sengstacke-Rice said. “We only missed one parade, and that was during the pandemic in 2020.”

Security aside, to many participating in the parade, it will be business as usual.

Shkunna Stewart, CEO of Bringing Out Talent Dance Company, said she’s made sure to talk to the kids participating ahead of the parade.

“We’re going to continue to have that conversation,” Stewart said. “And just make sure we do the best we can to keep our people safe and to keep the kids safe.”

Stewart said she was told of an increased police presence and security measures prior to the parade.

“It’s always a concern with things like that at any parade. It’s alarming but it’s just trying to be more aware of the surrounding areas and stuff like that,” she said. “But overall, just pray your prayers.”

Lyn Isbell, director of Michigan City (Ind.) Soul Steppers Drill Team, said her group was in the area to appear in several parades in nearby northern suburbs the day of the Highland Park shooting. They ended up in two parades; the third was canceled after the shooting.

Isbell and her drill team are looking forward to the Billken parade.

“We have never stopped,” Isbell said. “We just did a parade Saturday. As a matter of fact, we do parades every week, basically. I just made sure we all stay together.”

Isbell said she hadn’t heard of new security measures ahead of the August 13 parade that are different from previous years.

“My opinion is everybody should do their part,” Isbell said. “You know, maintaining your groups and be aware of your surroundings. If you see something, say something. If something looks out of order, it probably is.”

Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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