Residents and visitors to Chicago’s Loop this weekend should expect increased security after fights broke out, cars were damaged and at least two boys shot when large crowds of teenagers gathered last Saturday night.
For years Chicago teens have used social media to meet up downtown in large crowds. On Saturday, the crowds culminated around 9 p.m. and several videos posted online showed cars being broken into and set on fire. The chaos made national headlines and sparked debate about who was to blame for the violence. The alderman criticized the Police Department, some observers pointed fingers at parents and others focused on a lack of youth programs.
Metal fences and yellow barricades now line the perimeter of Millennium Park to limit entry points into the popular tourist destination. The checkpoints could be staffed Thursday, as police noted earlier this week that a curfew and youth escort policy will be in effect.
A group of high school seniors from nearby Muchin College Prep patiently filed through the designated entryways Wednesday afternoon to take senior class photos. Amaya, who asked that her last name not be used because she said she knew teens who made their way downtown last Saturday, said she avoids internet-fueled gatherings.
“I’m not a part of that group, I don’t do all that,” she said. “I come downtown for school and on the weekend sometimes, but it’s always drama with these ‘linkups’ so I don’t come down here when I hear they’re coming.”
Jamal Murphy, who works at the school, said downtown “feels very unsafe.”
“I was going to come downtown on Saturday to get some work done, but now I don’t feel safe on the weekend or the weekdays,” said Murphy, who added that the teens he works with are a “good group of kids” looking forward to prom and graduation.
“I just pray the kids get home safe after dismissal and everytime they leave downtown,” he said.
In addition to the curfew at Millennium Park, Chicago Police said in a statement that “additional security measures such as bag checks at beach entry points” will be in place.
Police also said the department is “actively and continuously reviewing open source social media and additional resources will be available to protect those who are visiting, living or working in the areas of large gatherings.”
The department’s Strategic Decision Support Centers will monitor activity and police cameras to provide information for the potential reallocation of police at gatherings around the city, according to the statement.
“The reckless, disruptive and violent behavior that was seen downtown this past weekend will not be tolerated,” according to a statement from the Chicago Police Department. “We encourage our young people to be safe and responsible as they enjoy their weekends, but anyone engaged in criminal activity will be arrested and held accountable.”
Vendors like Carlos Jimenez, who sells cotton candy on Michigan Avenue outside of Millennium Park, said he’s not too worried about the large groups of teens who gather at the park. He said he hasn’t had any encounters with disruptive groups and if “worse comes to worst I’ll just pack it up and leave.”
“It’s not worth it to get the cops involved. I don’t think they could help anyway,” Jimenez said.
The police response last Saturday was almost immediately under scrutiny. The department is now investigating a claim that police drove past a couple being attacked in the 100 block of North Wabash Avenue.
And Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward includes parts of downtown, told the Chicago Sun-Times there was a “total breakdown in command and control” at the Chicago Police Department, including a disagreement with CTA leadership about suspending mass transit service in the area.
Public safety experts and youth advocates told WBEZ about a range of possible solutions to deter chaos by young people downtown, including paid peacekeepers, summer jobs, improved transportation and more police. Last year, influential experts on gun violence, youth culture and recreation said violent outbursts among young people downtown was an opportunity for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration to provide more programs and activities for teens.
Meanwhile, new potential solutions are being put in place in anticipation of summer. Early Walker, CEO of nonprofit anti violence group “I’m Telling, Don’t Shoot,” on Thursday announced a hotline that encourages parents and police to share information about potential teen takeovers.
Samantha Callender is a digital reporting fellow for WBEZ. Follow her across socials @OnYourCallender.