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Was Vandalism Of Pride Parade Floats A Hate Crime?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Was the vandalism of 51 floats for the Gay Pride Parade this past weekend a hate crime?

Police say they are not investigating it as such. But the parade organizer and the owner of the floats both said they believe it was.

The Pride Parade went on as always in the Boystown neighborhood, with appearances by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn, among other dignitaries. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered along Halsted Street, Broadway and Diversey Parkway, high-fiving and embracing strangers and wishing them, "Happy pride!"

But the tire-slashing put a damper on the event before it started. Late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, the floats were vandalized in the warehouse for Associated Attractions Enterprises Inc., a parade float business at 4834 S. Halsted St.

Associated Attractions owner Chuck Huser said all 51 floats being stored at the warehouse had two of their tires punctured. He and his staff found all the floats leaning to one side when they arrived at 5 a.m. Sunday to start pulling them out for the parade.

"Every single one," Huser said. "They didn't single out one float. They did them all."

Owner Chuck Huser said all 51 floats being stored at the warehouse had two of their tires punctured overnight. He said organizers of the parade scrambled to replace as many tires as possible in time for the parade, which stepped off at noon Sunday at Halsted Street and Belmont Avenue.

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There were concerns that the parade might be delayed, but organizers succeeded in getting it started on time.

But three floats couldn't be repaired in time. Among them were the float for Spin nightclub – located right at the starting point for the parade at 800 W. Belmont Ave. – and the Lambda legal fund, which lobbies for gay rights.

A spokesman for Police News Affairs said that, for now, the vandalism is being investigated as criminal damage to property – given that no message was left behind at the scene.

But was it a hate crime? Among those involved with the parade, the consensus seems to be yes.

Huser said he has been in business for 36 years, and this kind of vandalism has never happened before.

"I firmly believe it was probably a hate crime," he told CBS 2's Vince Gerasole. "I firmly believe somebody did not want this parade to happen."

Parade coordinator Richard Pfeiffer also believes it was a hate crime. Why else, he says, would somebody pick the night before the Gay Pride Parade to disable the floats?

"And it just speaks to, people say, 'Gee, the LGBT community has come so far,' and we have," Pfeiffer said. "But if you have people who are doing something like this, maybe we haven't reached the hearts of everybody yet."

At the parade, some of those who had heard about the incident expressed disappointment, but weren't letting it ruin their day.

"It's hateful, but you have to pray for those people, because you can't spread more hate, and love triumphs," said Kathy Spratting of Unity Church.

Damage to the floats was estimated at $20,000.

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At the parade, gay rights supporters of all ages gathered, many waving – or even draping themselves in – rainbow flags. U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley and Jan Schakowsky (D-Chicago) walked the route, along with several aldermen, state lawmakers and state elected officials. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy also made an appearance.

On the lighter side, the Windy City Cowboys entertained the crowd with a synchronized line dance, the Chicago Sky WNBA team trotted out their Sky Guy mascot in jumping stilts, and Cook County Sheriff's office staffer Richard Streetman donned military camouflage to strut his stuff on the float for Sheriff Tom Dart – one of the few that was not owned by Associated Attractions.

But there were reports of problems with crowd control at the parade. Photos from the Windy City Times showed a car that was seriously damaged when people got up and danced on top of it at 900 W. Belmont Ave., and spectators who had to scale a fence on Halsted Street when the crowd grew too deep.

The parade was ultimately cut short toward the end, and several floats and marchers were diverted onto Clark Street, according to several reports. The exact reason was not clear.

Following the parade, many spectators headed north to the Rogers Park neighborhood for the new Pride North Fest, which was held along Glenwood Avenue between Morse and Lunt avenues until 10 p.m. Sunday.

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