City officials were caught off guard by a series of violent encounters this weekend that saw at least three teenagers shot.
That included a turbulent Saturday night downtown marked by communication breakdowns and clashes between city officials and police and a deluge of jarring videos that sparked outrage on social media.
Downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (second) said the meeting sparked by social media turned into three nights of “chaos” due to a “total breakdown in command and control” at the Chicago Police Department.
“We have experienced more than our share of mass arrest incidents downtown for over a decade. This is nothing new,” said Hopkins. “What's new is doing it three days in a row.”
When Chicago hosted the 2012 NATO summit, the CPD dealt with demonstrators who intended to “engage in rowdy and violent behavior” because there was a “detailed plan” for dealing with them, Hopkins said.
“We don't have that now,” he said. “Why not? If we hire a supervisor who has no plans to deal with this, it will keep happening every warm weekend.”
Officers made 15 arrests during Saturday's chaos, though Hopkins said there could have been “dozens more” were it not for the “hostility and violence” encountered by officers trying to get into the crowd. That includes multiple reports of officers being beaten, kicked, and pelted with bottles and other objects.
Warning: Disturbing video.
The footage was included in a “mix tape” of social media posts purporting to be from the “big group” incident at the Loop on Saturday night.
— CWBCChicago (@CWBCChicago) April 17, 2023
Hopkins said police while Supt. Eric Carter and Patrol Chief Brian McDermott got into an argument Saturday night, and there was a bitter dispute between “Chicago's police leadership and CTA management as to who was in charge” over whether to halt mass transit service downtown.
“There has to be all kinds of contingency plans in place when this incident occurs,” Hopkins said. “Instead, we had a complete breakdown on command and control. No one knows who is responsible.”
‘Rather like Groundhog Day'
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) specifically warned about the initial encounter that drew teenagers to Millennium Park on Saturday night, noting it degenerated into “chaos and criminal behavior”.
Two boys, ages 16 and 17, were among an unruly crowd that evening on the 100 East Washington Street block when they were shot, police said. The night before, a 14-year-old boy was injured by gunshots after another large group gathered on 31st Street Beach.
“Where are these children's parents?” Reilly wrote in an email to the Sun-Times. “They need to know where their children are going and what they are doing. There needs to be parental accountability for this kind of outrageous behavior.”
“Every year, on our first warm-weather weekend, it seems that CPD leadership is caught off guard and overwhelmed by the large groups of teenagers on our beaches and parks,” says Reilly. “As I do every spring, I have asked to see the downtown safety plans for this summer and have had no response from CPD.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has struggled to control so-called “takeover” events despite her administration investing in a series of youth-friendly parties last summer and imposing a new curfew in Millennium Park, which was roundly criticized and rarely enforced.
“This is not the first time we have tackled this issue,” Lightfoot said Monday. “But our young people have the opportunity and the right to enjoy our entire city. But they have to do it in a way that respects people and property.”
His failure to handle the meeting decisively offers a window into one of the many challenges awaiting Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson, who is committed to tackling the “root causes of violence and poverty.” He denounced the “destructive activity” over the weekend but insisted it was “not constructive to demonize young people who have lost opportunities in their own communities.”
“Our cities must work together to create spaces for young people to gather safely and responsibly, under the guidance and supervision of adults, to ensure that every part of our city remains welcome to both residents and visitors,” he said in a statement today. Sunday.
It's unclear why the police department was so caught off guard, as it closely tracks social media for posts about these types of events.
The department said in a statement Monday that additional security measures would be in place going forward, such as bag checks at beach entry points. A curfew for Millennium Park will also be enforced.
Police also said they were cooperating with youth and outreach workers when the encounter took place. Parents are also encouraged to accompany their teenagers or to keep them under adult supervision.
City Hall sources noted that police pre-gauge potential gathering sizes by looking at how much engagement a post has received, although some can be “fake” and some events can be cancelled.
“There were some bad actors, and then this kind of group mentality kicks in,” the source said. “So what the CPD is doing is trying to contain the crowd and disperse the crowd.”
A police superintendent blamed Carter and his predecessor, David Brown, for failing to adequately prepare for such a meeting. The department had previously worked with Chicago Public Schools and violence intervention organizations to help defuse tensions and provide services, but the superintendent noted that police officers were “not doing any planning for this weekend.”
“The problem is that no one really asks the youth why they come downtown and what they need,” said the supervisor.
‘No winners here'
Tynetta Hill-Muhammad, Chicago chapter organizer for the activist group Black Youth Project 100, said Lightfoot's attempts to tackle large gatherings were “Band-Aids” failing to fight systemic injustice at the heart of the problem.
He said the “disappointing” video from Saturday's takeover was now weaponized by bad actors.
“I see it as an immediate opportunity for right-wing, white supremacist people to attack and demonize and criminalize black people and another opportunity where… anti-Blackness becomes something normal and becomes something that people accept. ,” he says.
BYP100 offers a safe haven during the summer, taking the kids to the movies and bowling.
“These young people experience violence on a daily basis and without access to basic resources, such as therapy or mental health clinics or hospitals or after-school programs that other students and other young people have access to,” he said.
Arne Duncan, the former US education secretary who now heads the Chicago anti-violence group CRED, said the takeover would not stop “unless some things change radically.”
He said three things needed to happen: the city needed a dedicated group of outreach workers for the downtown area; historically violent environments need to be made safer; and parents and other elders need to start engaging with youth.
“We have to have a very, very different approach to this,” he said. “This is terrible for the city. Nationally, it makes us nothing but a laughing stock. And that's very damaging, and actually very dangerous for the young people themselves.
“So there are no winners here, and it can't be business as usual.”
Monday afternoon, a trio of community activists gathered in Chinatown to denounce the gathering, which they described as “riots and looting.” They demanded police be allowed to do their job and called for fines for the parents of youths caught committing crimes.
“Why not fine the parents and hold them accountable?” asked Raul Montes Jr. “We want the police to regain their power. Restore law and order.”
Montes added that if the takeover continues to overwhelm local law enforcement, Governor JB Pritzker should activate the National Guard, or declare martial law.
“This needs to stop, this is outrageous,” Montes said.