Videotaped street attack divides Chicago's Boystown

July 7, 2011

By Odette Yousef

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(John Gress)
Boystown residents and patrons crowded into standing-room only space for Wednesday's CAPS meeting.
(WBEZ/ Odette Yousef)
Residents waited their turn to take the mic.

A videotaped stabbing and beating of a man in Chicago's Boystown neighborhood has torn wide some rifts in that community.

At a community policing, or CAPS, meeting Wednesday night, it was standing-room only for hundreds in the auditorium of the Inter-American Elementary School in Lakeview. All came because of a common concern about the latest high-profile and violent attack in their community.  

The recorded images of the attack show a crowd beating, stabbing and jeering at a 25-year-old African American man Sunday night on Boystown’s busy Halsted Street. Despite many pleas for civility, the packed hall was a highly emotional scene punctuated throughout by booing, cheering, and even one woman’s claim that she had her camera slapped out of her hands.

“The stabbing was just kind of like the icing on the cake,” said John Cunningham, one of the people who witnessed and recorded the Sunday incident from his condominium overlooking the street. Cunningham said Lakeview residents have been concerned about street disorder, from muggings to rowdy night revelers, for some time. At Wednesday’s meeting, though, there was intense disagreement about the causes and solutions for the crime.

“We do have a lot of people in the neighborhood, a lot of people are walking the streets,” said Ryan Acuff, a resident of Halsted Street.

“For people to just be simply there, they’re loitering on the streets, what do we find for them to do?” Acuff said the Center on Halsted, a community and social service agency for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, is overrun by an influx of people in the neighborhood.

But others, like Joshua McCool, said shifting the blame to loiterers was a veiled attempt to scapegoat young, vulnerable minorities. “The idea that race is not part of this is ridiculous,” said McCool, a member of a grassroots organization for LGBTQ youth.

“Because obviously it's not just about being queer, because Boystown consists of queers, white queers, white men, middle class men. So this is a race issue.”

The Chicago Police Department does not believe race or sexual orientation were factors in Sunday’s attack, nor that gangs were involved.  The meeting, which normally runs for just one hour, ran for almost two. Chicago Police Department Sgt. Beth Giltmier announced that the meeting would be continued at a later date.