For years, the annual Labor Day parade in Broad Channel has featured tasteless parodies of various ethnic groups with little outcry from the mostly white community.
One year, a float was called "Gooks of Hazard," with whites depicting Asians; another year, there was "Hasidic Park," a takeoff of the movie "Jurassic Park" lampooning Jews. On still another float, "Happy Gays," men dressed as women were shown flirting with each other.Except for a few protest letters, there was little condemnation for the homemade displays at the volunteer firefighters' parade - until Monday.
This year's parade included a "Black to the Future" float, with white men in blackface marching alongside a pickup truck. At one point, they mock the dragging death of a black man in Texas, a crime that shocked the country earlier this year.
Two police officers and two firefighters, all off-duty, were among those in the group, according to published reports today.
Members of the group break-dance, bounce basketballs and appear to drink alcohol. One man on the float is heard saying: "You turn your back for a second and `Watch out,' they're moving in!"
The images, captured on amateur videotape, appeared on televisions and in newspapers across the city.
"I am disgusted by this ugly display of racism," said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has ordered the fire department to sever its ties to the small community in Queens. He vowed to fire any police officer or firefighter involved in the display. The district attorney is also investigating to determine if civil rights charges could be filed.
"I've been living here for nine years and I've never seen anything as drastically disgraceful as that," said Michael Shea, president of the Broad Channel Athletic Club.
The controversy has put unwanted attention on Broad Channel, home to a handful of blacks, Asians and Hispanics among a large Irish-American community. Many residents declined to comment Thursday, but those who did seemed stunned.
Dan Turbridy, a longtime Broad Channel resident, said: "When I saw it on the news, I cried. Nothing like this has ever happened."
"This is not heaven on earth, but people get along very well here save for a stupid remark here or there," said Jonathan Gaska, district manager of the local community board.
The float featured a banner reading "Black to the Future 2098."