Mayor de Blasio is refusing to allow a group of military veterans to march on Staten Island on Memorial Day — after welcoming public pot smokers to puff their way down Broadway in last week’s Cannabis Parade.
“It’s a slap in the face,” Jamie Gonzalez, 57, a Marine infantryman who saw combat in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, told The Post.
Gulf War vets like Gonzalez were set to be given special honors in Staten Island’s 102nd annual Memorial Day Parade this year to mark the 1991 conflict’s 30th anniversary — until the city pulled the plug.
“For many of us, a parade is a form of closure,” Gonzalez said. “We gather together and support each other.”
“I’m incensed,” said Ted Cohen, 82, a retired Air Force reservist who was on alert through the Cuban Missile Crisis. “It’s pathetic.”
The United Staten Island Veterans Organization, the association of 16 local vets’ groups that has sponsored the annual march for decades, filed a request for a parade permit with the NYPD on Feb. 27, following the same procedure they use every year in keeping with the city’s official rules.
On March 9, the department nixed the request, citing de Blasio’s emergency executive order restricting public events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. City Hall did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The brush-off came despite myriad marches in the last year that have been recognized by the city, officially escorted by cops, and often featured elected officials in the line of march. They included a slimmed-down St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March, when de Blasio participated; countless Black Lives Matters protest marches; and the cannabis rally and parade May 1, when revelers hoisted a huge inflatable spliff along a 17-block route and heard speeches from Sen. Chuck Schumer among others.
One city official said that the vets have become caught in the bureaucratic no-man’s-land of de Blasio’s haphazard coronavirus rules.
“People are just marching. That’s the new normal,” the official said. “The Staten Island people had the decorum and respect to go the proper way [and] they are suffering for their civic-mindedness.
“No one else is even asking permission.”
The Island vets, whose predicament was first reported in the Staten Island Advance, are enraged by the unequal treatment.
“Look, have any parade you want, I have no problem with that,” said Volker Heyde, 78, the commandant of Staten Island’s Marine Corps League. “But for the city to put dopeheads over vets is just dishonoring us.”
Attorney Brendan Lantry sent a “good faith” letter to the NYPD Friday to demand a parade permit by Monday, citing the Cannabis Parade as precedent.
“Under the equal protection clause, it’s unconstitutional for the city to pick and choose between groups like this,” Lantry said. “There’s a clear double standard going on here.”
The group will file a lawsuit next week if necessary, he said. A legal permit is also important for insurance reasons, as many elderly vets are participating and could need coverage against injury.
The veterans’ permit application estimated that 1,000 participants would march down Forest Avenue from Hart Boulevard to Greenleaf Avenue, a 18-block stretch of the leafy commercial street in West Brighton.
About 200 potheads partied at the New York City Cannabis Parade, which culminated in a Union Square rally where politicians praised the state’s new legal-weed law.
But the pot-rally organizers appear to have found a back door to get their event approved.
“We got a permit from the Parks Department,” rally spokesman Stu Zakim said. “We had a police escort the whole way, they shut traffic down, all that stuff.”
Lantry called the stealth permit process “insane.”
“There’s a reason this goes through NYPD — for security for those in the parade and those on the sidelines,” he said. “Parks should have no role in this parade, as it never has for a century.”
This story first appeared in the New York Post.