2014-04-10 / Opinion

Ah—Spring!

I n Newport, it is a saga of the good, the bad, and to some extent, sad to say, the downright ugly. All over the city, thousands of daffodils bloom. Planted by volunteers and donated by private citizens, these lovely flowers annually provide a colorful testament of our community pride. And this year, thanks to the hard work of the members of the Daffodillion Project, the explosion of color is bigger and brighter than ever!

Remarkable, isn’t it, what can be accomplished when we work together as a community?

Too bad the magnificent flower show cannot fully overshadow the aftermath of another Newport rite of spring—our annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.

As usual, this year scores of partygoers lined Newport’s downtown for our annual parade. And, as has become the norm, the many displays of public drunkenness seem etched in our memories rather than the sights of families with their small, delighted children enjoying what should be a safe and joyous time downtown.

Sadly, the record doesn’t lie.

In 2013, this newspaper reported that police made 38 arrests for possession of open containers of alcohol at the time of the parade and shortly thereafter. This year that figure climbed to 65 arrests. Similarly, there were 11 arrests last year for disorderly conduct. This year it was 12 such arrests. Last year there were 32 arrests for underage drinking. This year there were 11.

Last week and this week, Municipal Court Judge J. Russell Jackson heard 77 matters that dealt with drinking in public or having open containers of alcohol in public. Fifty-two defendants pleaded no contest and the majority were fined $650 and paid court fees of $93.50 each. These cases contributed more than $30,000 to the city’s general fund.

O.K., there is no way to know for sure from these figures how many of these arrests can be directly attributed to the drinking associated with our parade. But it does not seem like much of a stretch to connect the parade with the bulk of this data.

And, really—Newport could do without the income if it meant a saner and safer St. Patrick’s Day weekend on the city’s streets.

And, who knows how many underage and disorderly drinkers escaped police detection?

Like it or not, Newport’s St. Patrick’s Day parade has become synonymous with over-consumption. We’re not so naïve as to think that St. Patrick’s Day will ever (or should ever) be celebrated here or elsewhere without a toast or two to Saint Pat. But consider this: The good folks from our sister city of Kinsale, Ireland, report that their own St. Patrick’s Day parade seemed to them to be a bit more tame than ours, and more family oriented.

So let’s get with it. What would a Newport parade day be like were it to become more family and children friendly?

Why not work with parade organizers to dedicate certain areas along the route as family zones—and alcohol-free? Perhaps businesses along the parade route could throw open their doors to offer family-friendly activities rather than closing up shop altogether?

The city’s own strategic plan calls for making Newport the most welcoming and livable city in New England. The strategy cannot succeed unless young families can feel safe at one of our city’s most visible outdoor events. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a bit of fun. But does that have to mean ceding our city streets on parade day to a relative few whose idea of a good time requires incredibly bad behavior?

Let’s hope not. As a community, we need to strive to have a St. Patrick’s Day parade we can all be proud of, not an event that makes us feel as though we owe people an apology.

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