Stonewall isn’t until Saturday but there’s already a heavy police presence along Wilton Drive in case someone tries to copy the massacre that happened in Orlando Sunday.
A command center has been set up at the fire station and a surveillance tower has been placed at the Texaco station. And at the first official event for Stonewall, the Mayor’s Ball, held at the Hagen Park Community Center on Thursday night, the increased security was also on display.
To gain entrance, attendees had to pass through a metal detector. A first at a Wilton Manors event.
“I think that it’s unfortunate that this is what we’ve evolved to. But that’s what’s necessary,” said Central Area Neighborhood Association President Paul Rolli. “It’s sad to see, but it’s nice to have. It’s disappointing that’s what it’s come to but I’m glad to see it’s there,” said Karl Lentzer, president of the Wilton Manors Business Association.
“It’s there to make everyone feel safe. It’s as simple as that,” said Wilton Manors Police Chief Paul O’Connell.
There won’t be metal detectors during the event on Saturday. O’Connell said it’s not feasible because there will be too many people and too many access points. But there will be an “overwhelming police presence...you’re going to see a lot of uniform presence.”
City staff and police personal are working with BSO, the FBI and Homeland Security on “intensified, significant adjustments” to the security measures put in place before Orlando.
“We’re the first in Florida [to host a LGBT festival] since Orlando. We’re on heightened alert. There’s no other way of putting it,” O’Connell said. Mayor Gary Resnick added that undercover officers would also be a heavy presence at the event.
In addition to security, the event itself has also been reshaped – starting with the Mayor’s Ball.
At the formal start of the evening, Resnick held a 49-second moment of silence – one second for each of the individuals murdered inside Pulse. “I think that they deserve that . . . we need to stop the distribution of these types of weapons.”
Resnick was joined by his fellow city commissioners as well as officials from the county and other cities, including Broward Mayor Tim Ryan and Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis.
Ryan called the Orlando victims “martyrs” and said the country is “stronger” after Orlando.
Resnick responded that people just want to live their lives and not be targeted for who they are.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be a martyr, no offense.” The mayor blamed the shooter’s actions on the atmosphere of bigotry and intolerance that has been perpetuated against the LGBT community over the last few decades. “I don’t know how somebody learns that.”
Before the 6 p.m. parade on Saturday, organizers will hold a moment of silence to honor the victims, most of whom were LGBT and Latin. A group of 49 people dressed in white will each hold a placard with the name of one of the victims and 49 white balloons will be released into the air.
Jeff Sterling, executive director of the Wilton Manors Entertainment Group, the nonprofit organization that organizes the festival with the city, said the tragedy has given a renewed meaning to the event and “why it’s important to do this.”
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