Unruly crowds 'unacceptable,' but don't 'demonize youth': Brandon Johnson, Chicago mayor-elect

Curfew, bag checks at beaches to be enforced after 2 teens shot in downtown Chicago near Millennium Park Saturday night

ByDiane Pathieu, Craig Wall, Liz Nagy, and Christian Piekos, Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Tuesday, April 18, 2023
Unruly crowds 'unacceptable,' but don't 'demonize youth': mayor-elect
The next mayor of Chicago is reacting to unruly crowds in the Loop this weekend, calling it "unacceptable" but asking people not to "demonize youth."

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago officials are reacting after unruly crowds gathered downtown and a shooting injured two teens near Millennium Park over the weekend.

Viral videos show large groups of people disrupting traffic, dancing on cars and getting involved in fights.

"When I came back, this whole area was lined with, this street was blocked off by a wall of police up the next block," witness David Clark said.

The groups were seen running around, jumping on cars and CTA buses and weaving in and out of oncoming traffic. At one point, a bus driver was physically assaulted.

Two teenagers were shot near Michigan and Wabash avenues. A 16-year-old boy was shot in the arm, and a 17-year-old boy was shot in the leg.

"We've had it almost every year, and I just think the police feel that they don't have support from the mayor and stuff to really do what they have to do," said Elizabeth Cohen, who lives across Millennium Park.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson's response has grabbed national headlines.

Johnson called the activity "unacceptable," but went on to say, "it is not constructive to demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities."

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also responded to the violence.

"We have taken steps, and will take steps to address these teen trends. It's not the first time that we've addressed these issues, but our young people have an opportunity and a right to enjoy the entirety of our city, but they have to do it in a way that is respectful for people and property. And we did address that over the weekend, and we will continue to address it," Lightfoot said. "The vast majority of young people that came downtown because it was a great weather and an opportunity to enjoy the city, that's absolutely entirely appropriate. There are a few that came with different intentions, and they have, and they will be dealt with."

She also tweeted, "We have made historic investments in city youth programming & supporting community-based organizations to create year-round safe spaces for our youth."

Fifteen people were arrested in the incident.

These kind of meet ups are hyped and circulated over social media. Still, city officials, business owners and police appeared to have been caught off-guard by Saturday night's melee.

Kelly Hoxie said he had more than 100 patrons dining inside Remington's across from Millennium Park. They shut down the patio as the crowd began to take over, and called 911 four times.

"You couldn't leave the restaurant, or enter the restaurant," Hoxie said. "A couple of other people who I know happened to be off duty, heard it over the radio, so they came. They helped me bring people into the restaurant, out of the restaurant, walked people down to their cars, to the train station, to the hotels."

The weekend's violence wasn't just in the Loop. Similar problems took place at 31st Street Beach, and also ended in violence. A 14-year-old boy was shot in his thigh.

The incident raised concerns for Alderwoman Sophia King, whose ward covers that area.

"It was very serious. So we have to hold youth accountable and responsible. But we also need to bring the city together because we do need to have activities for the youth," King said.

What went wrong?

The ABC7 I-Team took a closer look at chaos that unfolded in downtown Chicago, including a shooting near Millennium Park, over the weekend.

Former CPD Chief of Detectives Gene Roy joined ABC7 to take a closer look at how the chaos unfolded. He expressed concerns about officers possibly being put on the scene without adequate plans or direction.

"You have the plan. You have the pieces all assembled. You have your tool kit. It's like a mechanic. You go to work with the tool kit every day," Roy said.

Roy also suggested putting officers at key CTA "L" stops to prevent people from jumping turn styles and going downtown.

"You prevent them from starting the evening off breaking the law," Roy said.

He also recommended putting pre-positioned units in suspected hot-spots, and said he would not rule out cutting off CTA lines or raising bridges if necessary. Those tactics have been used during previous disturbances.

Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose ward includes the Loop, said the violence is lawlessness on the part of teens looking to score points on social media. He also questioned the police response.

"You need to call it out for what it is. You can't sugarcoat this, and you can't make excuses for that behavior. You need to hold them and their parents accountable for this, and use everything that's in our toolbox to identify who they are, and take the appropriate action, so that we don't have this going on all summer long," Reilly said in a statement.

Other city leaders were also frustrated by the chaos and violence and what it might mean for downtown on the next warm weekend.

"You know, clearly our officers did not want to engage. They were just trying to basically protect assets, and we need to know what the appropriate response is for CPD, and fire and OEMC when these situations breakout," said 15th Ward Alderman Ray Lopez.

Illinois State Rep. Kam Buckner also weighed in.

"I think it was frightening. When you look at the video of what we saw in this city, specifically, where young people are, we've got a problem on our hands. So, we've got to find a way to address this," Buckner said.

How can future violence be prevented?

Chicago police and community outreach workers are trying to prevent violence after a downtown shooting injured two teens on Saturday.

The city said a curfew for minors enacted in May 2022 remains in place, but CPD said they will implement additional security measures.

"We strongly encourage parents to accompany their teens or have them remain under the supervision of a responsible adult," CPD said, in part.

CPD's efforts will include:

  • An increased police presence at large gatherings
  • Monitoring all activity and police cameras
  • Bag checks at beach entry points
  • Working with youth and outreach workers

Terrance Henderson is one of the outreach workers.

"I got down there Saturday night around 8," Henderson said. "It was, absolutely, too late. You have to be ahead of them. Once the crowd gets really large, it's not much that you can do."

But, he believes the messaging from mediators like him can work to diffuse something dangerous right alongside police.

"They have their peers being like, 'Come on, let's do it!' They don't have a lot of people to tell them, 'Bro, this isn't the right thing to do. You're tearing up people's property. We're losing small business. It's not safe.' We have to go down there with the same type of energy," Henderson said.

ABC7 also spoke with community organizers about possible solutions to the violence and unrest that unfolded over the weekend.

Community organizers discussed possible solutions to Chicago violence after a Loop shooting injured two teens near Millennium Park.

"Right now, we're on a course to just disaster. And, so, everyone has to step up. The city has to behave very differently. Pastors have to help out. Parents have to come downtown and be a presence," said Arne Duncan with Chicago CRED.

Pastor Corey Brooks, CEO of Project HOOD, also weighed in.

"Parents have to step up and know where their children are and what their children are participating in," Brooks said.

Good Kids Mad City Co-founder Kofi Ademola and Brooks both said structure is key, and it's going to take the entire city coming together to make a positive change in the lives of young people.

"How do we prevent violence? How do we give young people the tools and opportunities and resources so they don't pick up guns in the first place?" Ademola said.

Ademola said a proposed ordinance called "the Peacebook" could be the key to providing opportunity to the city's youth. If passed, Ademola said it would invest millions into city neighborhoods to create youth programming, job training and much-needed structure.

"Young people are being forced to fend for themselves. If we can provide them with jobs, if we can provide them with the opportunity to learn restorative justice, peace-keeping, things of that nature, then we'll see a shift in the culture," Ademola said.

James Robinson is a youth leader in Good Kids Mad City, and said the organization has given him purpose.

"I was on the streets when I was young and it just helped me really rethink what I want to do with my life, where I want to be," Robinson said.

And, Project HOOD is currently investing over $30 millions into an 89,000 square-foot community facility to be constructed in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

"All of that is to house so many different programs that can help young people get their lives on track, whether it's entrepreneurial programs, violence prevention and counseling programs," Brooks said.

But, Brooks said, safety and good behavior start at home.

"My grandmother used to say, 'an idle mind is the devil's workshop,' and I believe that," Brooks said.

Brooks said he hopes the state-of-the-art facility will be completed within the next two years.

The president and CEO of Chicago's Loop Alliance, which represents downtown businesses, also released a statement, saying in part, "We are saddened by the events that occurred in the Loop (Saturday) evening" and "we are prepared to work with all relevant partners and parties in response to when these trends are detected."

Full CPD statement on weekend unrest:

The Chicago Police Department's top priority is the safety and wellbeing of our residents and visitors, including our city's youth. The reckless, disruptive and violent behavior that was seen downtown this past weekend will not be tolerated. 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.

We actively and continuously review 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. Resources include an increased police and command staff presence at these gatherings citywide. Our Strategic Decision Support Centers (SDSCs) will also be monitoring all activity and police cameras to assist in the proactive reallocation of resources when necessary.

Additional security measures such as bag checks at beach entry points and the curfew for minors at Millennium Park will also be in place. CPD is also working closely with youth and outreach workers for when these gatherings occur.

We strongly encourage parents to accompany their teens or have them remain under the supervision of a responsible adult. We will continue working alongside our community organizations and leaders to provide safe spaces and alternatives for our youth across the city.

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