Was the Taste of Chicago violence accurately reported?

July 6, 2009

This weekend, the Chicago Police Department sent out an email to media outlets detailing the arrests and violence at this year's Taste of Chicago. The email, sent by Police Spokesman Roderick Drew, detailed some of the 31 arrests at the Taste including several gun and knife charges. Most of the arrests happened outside the Taste of Chicago grounds. In today's new media-world, the email from the Police Department may not tell the whole story. Several blogs and alternative news outlets are painting a much more violent picture and comments from Taste attendees on newspaper stories and blogs document what it was like to be there for the fireworks. While our newsroom works on substantiating claims and following up with the Police Department, we give you a round-up of what people are saying about the Fireworks at the Taste. The Chicago Tribune reported on the July 3 arrests and used part of Drew's e-mail:
"You always have incidences flare up at a gathering that large," Drew said. "The officers were quick to arrive on the scene whenever a problem was reported. All in all, the vast majority of people were there to relax, have some food and enjoy themselves. A few were there to cause trouble."
They had a few sources and had a longer version as well, which included details of gang activity:
"By nightfall, however, the crowd had grown larger. Several pockets of young men displayed gang signs and a number of fights broke out. At least three times, the escalating violence led to stampedes in the crowd that resulted in minor injuries for some trampled under foot. "I saw all these people pushing and yelling and I had to get out of there," said Chicago resident Kim Rupp. "It's getting too crazy out here. This might be the last time I come [to the Taste]."
The Sun-Times did little reporting and their headline "After last year's violence, city welcomes peaceful fireworks" started a melee online. The comments here. And here. Then you have Mike Doyle's blog Chicagosphere. Mike is taking up the story that the Chicago media didn't do enough to challenge the Police Department and that the story of violence at the Taste of Chicago is under-reported:
"According to the editors and commenters of the independent Chicago Police Department watchdog blog, Second City Cop, the official version of events given to the news media by city officials is far from the full story. Besides questioning the early fireworks start, their Independence Eve roundup, complied and augmented by anonymous Chicago police officers and insiders, lists numerous fights (like this video), arrests, gang marches, and shots fired."
The Second City Cop is a blog maintained anonymously by someone claiming to be‚ a Chicago Police officer.‚  The blog offers a different take, including video from a Taste fight and a ton of comments from people there. This blog talks about his first-hand experience of the fight at Congress and Michigan, after the fireworks. Twitter played a role too. Patrick Jackson tweeted this‚ (supposedly) from the Taste:
The taste of Chicago was chaotic yesterday. People were running out of the park due to hundreds of thugs wearing white T shirts.
and finally, the TV stations. It seemed like each station had 14 reporters covering the fireworks. CBS2 mentions the gun arrests (:11 seconds worth), but does more of a wrap-up of events, foods, and of course, newscast banter. NBCChicago had a story today - but more about the drop in attendance. They also mention the arrests, but they throw in this line:

Police say an increased presence in Grant Park helped keep things relatively safe and orderly, with about 30 arrests‚ reported in the course of the event.‚  Safe, orderly and slightly soggy.

WGN broadcast live from the Taste had the breaking news of a teen arrested for having a gun in his backpack. But the report started with what sounded like cheerleading for the Chicago Police initiatives to step up security. And CLTV takes the same footage and gives us a straight ahead news story on the gun/knife arrests.
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