Metal containers, scissors, bags of beads at 100 mph: When ‘Throw me something sir’ gets violent at Mardi Gras
Mike Bailey was enjoying the Mardi Gras parades from his favorite vantage point outside the Garage on Washington Avenue when he raised his camera to snap a photo of one of the floats.
“All of a sudden,” Bailey recalled Thursday. “Boom! I was outside.”
The next thing Bailey remembers is a group of people gathering around him and placing wet paper towels over his face. He was bleeding.
“Luckily my head didn’t hit the concrete, but my back did,” said Bailey, 64, a downtown Mobile resident and longtime veteran of Mardi Gras parades.
It was the first time he had been injured by a throw, which turned out to be a bag of beads. “I have really bad shoulders at the hip. I had trouble sleeping at night.”
He added: “Throwing objects maliciously to harm people is not part of Mardi Gras.”
Bailey’s story, posted on Facebook, prompted Mobile resident Bryan Fuenmayor to post an online petition calling for a “safer Mardi Gras.” Only 79 people signed the petition on Saturday, but it has drawn widespread reactions on social media where people are responding with anecdotal stories of their own injuries sustained from throws thrown by the floats. On the other hand, much criticism has been leveled at Fuenmayor by others who believe injury is an accepted risk of attending a Mardi Gras parade.
Fuenmayor is no stranger to controversy. He previously led the LGBTQ organization “Rainbow Mobile” and organized Drag Queen Story Hour events in 2018. He said the latter petition faced “severe backlash” for him.
“I don’t care how many (who signed the petition) and I know I’m the minority here,” he said. “I just want a conversation to raise awareness and to let people know that they’re throwing boxes and people are getting seriously hurt.”
No official weighed in on the petition, nor on the dangerous throws during Mardi Gras. A person posted a photo on social media of a pair of scissors being thrown from a float in Mobile. In Daphne, a woman was bloodied and suffered an injured eye after being hit by a throw during a parade, according to a report by WPMI-TV. Others are posting to social media about chipped teeth after being hit by aggressive throws, detached retinas from boxes of MoonPies thrown from the floats.
Police Mobile reported that during Saturday’s Mystic of Time parade, a 5-year-old girl was allegedly hit in the head by a metal water bottle thrown from one of the masks aboard one of the floats.
According to the police report, the complainant claimed the masker attempted to throw beads and other objects at a bystander who was holding a sign with an unknown message on it. The masker, according to police reports, threw the metal bottle which hit the girl, who then had to be taken to hospital for treatment.
Mobile police reported receiving a total of 147 medical calls during this year’s Mardi Gras and carrying out 45 transports to local hospitals. Of this number, eight people were injured by an object thrown from a tank.
Steven Millhouse, spokesman for the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department, said he did not believe the number of medical calls during this year’s carnival season was “more than usual”.
“Other than the (injured girl at the MOT parade), none of them were extraordinary,” he said. “Maybe a cut here or there. Maybe a bruise here or there.
Charlette Solis, spokeswoman for the mobile police department, said each parade organization receives a document outlining the rules for floating. She said that although the parade associations receive the information before the carnival season, “extra efforts will be made to educate them on safety”.
Mobile’s parade companies have their own insurance policies that cover their members and spectators, according to Mobile Mardi Gras historian Wayne Dean, who portrays the iconic carnival character “Slacabamarinico.” He said even walkers on Joe Cain Day are required to have insurance coverage.
Mardi Gras “Immunity”
But Mobile, unlike New Orleans, does not include any prohibited throws in its city code. Although “Mardi Gras” is mentioned in the city code – for example, crossing barricades is illegal and subject to fines – there is no official list of “no throws”.
In New Orleans, “prohibited” throws include condoms, “lethal” objects, or spears. It is also forbidden, according to the New Orleans code, to dispose of “marine animals, rodents, poultry or other animals, dead or alive”.
Louisiana also has a “Mardi Gras Immunity Statute”, first enacted in 1979, which essentially prevents parading krewes from being held liable for injuries sustained by spectators as a result of throws thrown from a float.
In 1988, following injuries and lawsuits from a painted coconut thrown in the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade, the Louisiana Legislature and the City of New Orleans teamed up to create the “Coconut Bill”. This law added Zulu coconuts to a list of items (such as beads and cups) to a list of Mardi Gras throws that enjoy specific immunity from personal injury lawsuits. But there was one condition: the coconuts had to be passed from the tanks and not thrown into the crowd.
Alabama’s state code, by comparison, only lists “Mardi Gras” twice – to exempt organizations from paying property taxes on their barns and other storage locations, and to recognize it as a day. holiday in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
New Orleans has made national headlines for legal headaches involving Mardi Gras throwing. In 2006, a 74-year-old retired teacher and parade participant was allegedly pelted with coconuts – a passerby called it “coconut artillery” – and suffered lasting injuries during the Zulu parade in this year. The woman then sued the krewe, the alleged perpetrator and the krewe’s insurance companies for damages. But the courts ruled that the coconuts were among the items exempt from legal liability and dismissed the case.
Dean said the city of Mobile has banned twine, boxes and other silly things over the years. But he said unlike in New Orleans, he doesn’t recall any specific laws banning such items.
“A metal container is obviously something that should never happen,” Dean said. “You don’t throw away your cooler. But if you start listing all the things you can’t throw away, it can get ridiculous.
“Safer Mardi Gras”
Fuenmayor, in his petition for a “safer Mardi Gras”, asks the following:
- Have a designated inspector check each float before it rolls to ensure there are no boxes on board.
- Pearls should not be bagged or thrown into bags
- All casts must be contained in large bags, stored on the float.
- Enforce a mobile municipal ordinance which states that “the conduct of the parade is not reasonably likely to cause injury to persons or property or to cause disorderly conduct or create a disturbance”.
- Issue “heavy fines” to organizations and members who break the rules.
- Promote tools to help attendees report incidents.
- Have a weight limit on throws.
- Keep track of convicted organizations and make them public. After so many strikes, consider “banning” an organization from participating in future parades.
Fuenmayor said he understands the criticism against his petition. He also said he understood their arguments that if you attend a Mardi Gras parade, there are personal risks in trying to grab beads and other trinkets.
He compared the petition to the first barricades set up along parade routes to protect parade organizations and spectators.
“People complained, ‘you’re making it less fun,’ and over time people got used to it,” Fuenmayor said. “It stopped the injuries from happening.”
He added: “The other side of the equation is that there are people who are new to Mobile and don’t know the risks. They think it’s a public event and it’s safe. But there is no warning. He said he wanted to see the parades “safe and fun for everyone” without the risk of being hit by hard objects at fast speeds.
“I’ve had comments from people who say they were injured for a year and never came back and they don’t feel safe,” Fuenmayor said. “It shouldn’t be dangerous unless that’s the nature of the event, like running with the bulls.”
Dean said some of the toughest items thrown in mobile Mardi Gras parades are among the “most wanted throws,” such as the Conecuh sausage packets thrown on Mardi Gras day.
“Everyone wants to grab that sausage,” Dean said. “But that is common sense. You shouldn’t hurt anyone in the crowd.
Bailey said he didn’t want to see anything get in the way of the city’s carnival celebration, but he hopes his incident will raise awareness that it’s not acceptable for people on floats to throw boxes and beads so hard as possible in the crowd.
He has since received a phone call from the person who allegedly threw the bag of beads at him. The person issued an apology and Bailey posted on Facebook that the incident would not take her away from future parades.
“We’re a unique place in the world along the Gulf Coast to have Mardi Gras,” Bailey said. “I wouldn’t want that taken away from us or (to take away from us) the throws. But don’t throw them at 100 mph in someone’s face without them knowing it’s happening. To me, that’s irresponsible.