Chicago safety plan put to test at start of holiday weekend, city prepares for big lakefront crowds

Saturday, May 27, 2023
Johnson's safety plan tested just hours into holiday weekend
Just hours into the start of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, Brandon Johnson's holistic safety plan was being tested by shootings around the city.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's almost summertime in Chicago, time for warmer weather, sunshine, lakefront activities and crowds on the beach.

Chicago police held a roll call in Millennium Park, which has been the site of past teen takeovers downtown, during which Interim CPD Supt. Fred Waller met with various community groups that are part of the summer safety plan.

'If we see a fight, we're stepping in," said Damien Howard of community group Brilliance and Excellence at the roll call. "What we're seeing, unfortunately, is that the officials can't engage when there's risky behavior going on. We believe that these are our children, our babies, and we're going to engage."

"We just want to provide that support out here to the city. You know, this is our city. These are our youth, and it's important that not only that we protect our city, but we protect our youth as well," said Joseph Williams of Mr. Dad's Fathers' Club.

Police said they are prepared in case anything goes awry this weekend, and Friday afternoon some of the typical warm weather chaos tested the city's plans.

Gunshots forced North Avenue Beach to close after a large group of teenagers got into a fight around 1:30 p.m. A juvenile was taken into custody, and charges are pending. No one was struck.

Not long after that, police said a 70-year-old man was shot and critically injured during a drive-by near UIC, around 2:45 p.m. near Morgan and Roosevelt Road. The victim was taken to Stroger Hospital for treatment.

The new summer safety plan put in place by new Mayor Brandon Johnson includes not just police and city government but also community groups that will pitch-in to help keep the city safe.

"We all want safety for our families and our loved ones and our neighbors," resident Jim Weinstein said.

Chicago Mayor Johnson unveiled a Memorial Day safety plan Thursday.

"We want everyone to be safe and enjoy the city, but we will not tolerate any engaging of criminal activity or disorderly conduct," Interim CPD Chief Fred Waller.

Chicago CRED, which stands for Creating Real Economic Destiny, is one of the violence prevention organizations helping the city and state keep the peace this weekend and throughout the summer.

"Before there is a crime committed we try to come in and say you know come over this is a village that will embrace you this is a home you can find shelter in this is clothes you can put on your back," said Kanoya Ali, violence intervention worker with CRED.

Chicago CRED is one of the community organizations that is working with the city to help keep the peace in neighborhoods over the holiday weekend.

Ali said bringing at-risk youth and young adults to CRED before a crime is committed is not easy, but said it is successfully done with the right approach and tactics. He said the key is using the same compassion people use when rescuing a hurt and abandoned animal.

"Well, these are human beings with the same kind of elements," he explained. "They've been hit, they've bene ran over and they're trying to make it."

For the Memorial Day weekend, CRED is taking 30 of its highest risk participants to New York City to spend quality time with them and give them a real life experience away from pressures and triggers at home.

Keeping safety on the forefront also extends to the beaches, where staff is already preparing for what's to come.

"We're gonna add 30 beach ambassadors they are going to be spread across the five busiest beaches here on the lake and those ambassadors are going to be trained with the same certifications like our lifeguards and they will add safety to assist those lifeguards that are going to be here on the lake," Samuel Jorden, Park District beaches and pools managers, said.

Those ambassadors should start near the end of June.

The Chicago Police Department is preparing for the long holiday weekend as well by canceling one day off for officers and having many focus on the lakefront, and other events happening downtown including the Memorial Day Parade and the Navy Pier fireworks.

And 30 new peacekeepers and street outreach partners announced by Governor JB Pritzker will be all across the city on hand to de-escalate conflicts.

"I like the community engagement because I think that's the most reliable source of people that can relate to the people we're talking to," Weinstein said. "If you're from my community , we can have a discussion. If you are from somewhere else, you don't understand my situation so I like the community approach."

City officials are still asking residents and visitors to stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.

The Office of Emergency Management and Communications is asking residents and visitors to be aware of their surroundings, with many festivals, concerts and athletic events planned and the opening of the city's beaches. The large events scheduled include the Memorial Day parade, Soldier Field 10-mile and 10K run, and Suenos Music Festival.

Those in the city are encouraged to use public transit, as traffic is expected to pick up.

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