Chicago police brace for repeat of last weekend's unruly crowds downtown

Metal fences, curfew in place at Millennium Park

ByJessica D'Onofrio, Diane Pathieu, Tre Ward, and Christian Piekos WLS logo
Saturday, April 22, 2023
CPD braces for repeat of last weekend's unruly crowds
Chicago police are working to prevent last weekend's unruly crowds downtown and at Millennium Park.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago police are working to prevent a repeat of last weekend's unruly crowds, which left downtown residents with conflicting emotions.

"I'm afraid to do things I used to do," one downtown resident said. "I'm starting to think about moving to Evanston or the suburbs."

A chilly Friday night on Michigan Avenue served as the backdrop for an increased police presence after violence unfolded last weekend.

"I appreciate what they do out here, and trying to keep us safe for people out here trying to have a good time," said J.J. Trenholm who is visiting Millennium Park.

City leaders said they don't expect the crowds to be as big this weekend at Millennium Park, largely because of the colder weather. Still, all around the park, there is fencing, barricades and a sign reminding visitors of a 4 p.m. curfew in place for teenagers without an adult.

"I think it's necessary. It's good. I think it would reassure visitors and visitors to our city," said Lanre, another resident. "We can't allow for chaos that's happening downtown and anywhere in the city for that matter."

That curfew took effect earlier than usual on Friday, and will take effect at its usual time, 6 p.m., on Saturday, Chicago police said.

"I don't know, it looks to me like the reaction's been kind of overblown," said Alex Frakt, who lives near Millennium Park.

A 10 p.m. citywide curfew for teenagers under 18 is in effect, too.

"It's never a good thing to experience that kind of stuff in the city that you live in," park-goer Chelsea Ochoa said of last weekend's violence.

It's all in an effort to combat unruly, violent young crowds like this one, that took over the downtown area last weekend, with teens jumping on cars, beating up others, dancing on CTA buses, and even shooting.

"I just got back in town a few years ago," resident Sunny Kennedy said. "I got back here after the riots. My city has changed...I'm scared, actually."

Possible unrest has impacted planned events in the area. Band, orchestra and choir students from the Leyden High Schools, Franklin Park, Rhodes, Rosemont and Schiller Park schools, were scheduled to perform at the Chicago Symphony Center on Friday night, but officials moved the event to Oak Park River Forest High School.

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Second Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins said the city, along with police, began putting plans in place this week, to get ahead of any problems.

"The senior command at the Chicago Police Department has spent days since last weekend table top exercising for future scenarios and they've made a lot of key decisions," Alderman Hopkins said. "They are going to implement those decision this weekend so we will to put it a test. We don't expect as big of a crowd this weekend simply because of the weather but whoever shows up intent on causing trouble and committing crimes, they are going to be arrested."

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Chicago police said this week they will also be monitoring activity on police cameras and provide resources where needed, a problem that arose last weekend was a lack of enough officers. CPD released a statement after last weekend's chaos, reading, in part, ""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."

Plus, other community members are getting involved, including local faith based leaders who plan to be on the ground downtown this weekend.

Chicago pastors like Dr. Charlie Dates have been leaning on faith and leading a walk on Saturday night to educate young people about opportunity in the city while holding them accountable.

"I was broken-hearted, tearful," said Dates, who leads the Progressive and Salem Baptist Church. "We are holding ourselves accountable. These kids belong to us, but we are not absolving them of responsibility."

Downtown residents, some who were afraid to show their faces on camera, said social media is to blame for the lawlessness.

"I think it's evil. That's what it is. Between TikTok and everything else, these kids want to try and be bigger and better than other kids," one resident said.

At the African American Mayors' Association in Washington, D.C., Mayor Lori Lightfoot reflected on how to reach kids, as young as possible.

"So, we've got to look at every possibility that we can to help support those babies and young children, no matter what the circumstances that they're born into, so that they don't become a statistic on the back end, where they gotta say, 'How do we intervene?'" Lightfoot said. "I'm going to urge you as mayors - don't forget the critical period from zero to five. Because, if those kids don't come to kindergarten ready and able to learn, you're gonna spend more money on the back end of their life trying to help them."

But, the fact remains that city leaders have to agree on a plan.

"Not all of my colleagues agree that more policing is the answer," Hopkins said. "You've seen some of the comments recently that these are just misunderstood children leave them alone. I personally don't agree with that. When you commit a crime, when you harm someone, when you assault someone you take out a weapon and threaten their life there needs to be consequences."

This weekend's cooler weather may be a deterrent to large crowds gathering. Either way, city officials said they will be ready.

A group of activists led by "I'm Telling, Don't Shoot" CEO Early Walker unveiling a new initiative designed to inform parents when large potentially dangerous gatherings of teenagers are taking place.

Parents can sign up for alerts by texting "chicagokids" to 21000. CPD said it's supporting this effort by community activists to keep parents informed about what's happening with their kids.

"You get a text message, they look at their phone, they see the text, 'Uh oh, something going on, let me call my kids and find out where they are at,'" Walker said.

Police said it is supporting that community effort, saying working with community members is essential to strengthen safety all across the city.