Mayor Brandon Johnson rolls out summer safety plan, hoping to prevent Memorial Day weekend violence

Chicago beaches officially open for season, with Castaways set to reopen at North Avenue Beach

Saturday, May 25, 2024
City officials hope safety plan will prevent holiday weekend violence
Mayor Brandon Johnson and Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling hope the city's safety plan will prevent Chicago violence over Memorial Day weekend.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Brandon Johnson rolled out his holiday weekend and summer safety plan on Friday afternoon with a big focus on youth and violence prevention.

With Chicagoans and visitors alike already flocking downtown, the unofficial start to summer is here. But as people look forward to the warmer months ahead, some worry what's in store.

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"I'm looking at it to be a very dangerous one, because every time it gets hot, that's what we expect to happen," said Ashlyn Harris.

Violence historically spikes during the summer months, and city leaders are hoping to stop that trend.

"The past year, we've made tremendous strides in our mission to secure our neighborhoods. Murders are down. Shootings are down. But there's still so much more work to be done," Johnson said.

The mayor stood with leaders, from a host of city departments, who all echoed a similar message that safety has to be a concern for everyone, not just police. This holiday weekend, his plan will get its first test.

In Englewood, where residents have unfortunately become too accustomed to gunfire and violence, there is hope on Friday afternoon.

Michael Simmons is a crisis responder who helps families who lose loved ones to violence.

"We're actually optimistic. We were kind of looking for something new, something fresh," said Michael Simmons, a Chicago Survivors crisis responder.

On Friday afternoon, Johnson announced a city-wide effort to address violence, including a new plan for interrupting it.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson spoke about 2024 summer safety ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

"A partnership with DFSS and Good Kid Mad City to employ and train 100 youth peacekeepers, who are not only working to stay safe, but they are working to engage other young people, to make sure that they're safe," Johnson said. "For too long, young people have been on the outskirts of hope, but now, we are bringing them in to the circle of opportunity."

The city's pilot program with Good Kids Mad City is central to the mayor's anti-violence plan.

"It's really going into community and making sure that they're promoting peace in a safe way. Our goal is always to keep our young people -- safe, bright young people -- safe, with the caring adults that are planned with them," said Chicago Dept. of Family and Support Services Commissioner Brandi Knazze.

After several teen takeovers downtown last year, the mayor said there are ongoing conversations about a curfew, but no decision so far.

"Look, we have to make sure that we're keeping people safe. But we also have to make sure that we're not placing restrictions that ultimately lead to a deeper level of frustration that can manifest in another part of the city," Johnson said.

Chicago Police Department Supt. Larry Snelling urged parents to know where their teens are, and said while he wants everyone to have fun downtown, he promised zero tolerance for those set on trouble.

"If he has programs in progress for the children, then I think it'll be a pretty successful summer," West Side resident Jesse Smith said.

After the afternoon press conference, the mayor met with community member is Chatham at the Memorial Day Activation event.

Chicago Police Department Supt. Larry Snelling spoke about summer 2024 safety ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

"If you're committing acts of vandalism, if you're fighting, if you're engaging in violent activity, if you're attacking people, the Chicago Police Department is going to step in, and we're going to make arrests," Snelling said. "Please, know where your children are. They're out of school for the summer, and they should have fun, but they need to do so safely and responsibly."

Last year in Chicago, there were 53 people shot and 11 killed over Memorial Day weekend. Johnson has been hoping for a much better result with this year's plan.

"No death is tolerable. I don't want anybody to get shot and die in the city of Chicago, and we are putting forth our community safety plan again to respond to what, quite frankly, has been ignored needs for generations," Johnson said.

Police said they will be patrolling the beaches and checking bags. They will also have a presence downtown, but the superintendent say they will still be protecting neighborhoods as well.

"Crime doesn't happen on a schedule, so it's important that across the city, we are flexible and can adapt to what the needs are in real time," Snelling said.

This year, police are taking on a more strategic plan for cancelling days off for officers during holidays and festivals and other big events. It will not be department-wide, and will start with officers who want the overtime.

"We're being very strategic about it. We're being very deliberate about taking of our officers, so that our officers can now go out and effectively take care of the public," Johnson said.

CPD said it will have enough officers for major holiday weekend events such as the start of Navy Pier fireworks, the Sueños Music Festival in Grant Park and Memorial Day parade.

Officers will also be at at the city's 22 beaches, which opened on Friday morning.

Chicago beaches officially open for season

Chicago's 22 beaches officially opened for the season Friday.

Despite some nasty weather in the forecast, folks were making the most of Friday's beautiful morning.

A picture-perfect sunrise ushered in the start of Chicago's beach season.

"Oh I mean, there's nothing like summers in Chicago," resident Melissa Tassone said. "You can't beat it."

The Chicago Park District says nearly two dozen beaches opened officially at 11 a.m.

"I'm just looking forward to seeing everyone come out of hibernation after the long winter. It's always just a bittersweet feeling," resident Aubrey Kelson said.

The Castaways Beach Club will be officially reopening on Saturday at North Avenue Beach.

Runners and walkers alike took in the gorgeous weather while they can ahead of stormy weather later Friday.

"It's really almost an unbelievable experience because you have the city here, you have the beautiful skyline, the beaches, the water," resident Frank Kuhlmann said. "It's just a great vibe out here."

The park district says beaches are open daily from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. However, swimming is only permitted when lifeguards are on duty from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The lifeguards use a flag system to communicate swimming conditions.

A green flag means swimming is permitted, a yellow flag means swimming is allowed, but caution is advised and a red flag means swimming is not permitted.

"Swimming is only permitted in designated areas where lifeguards are present and the green beach flags are flying," Chicago Fire Department First Dep. Commissioner Mary Sheridan said.

Jarrius Lindsay is visiting Chicago from North Carolina.

"When I pulled up, I was just taken away by how beautiful it is and seeing everyone out running and enjoying the weather and the scenery," Chicago visitor Jarrius Lindsay said. "It's gorgeous."

Chicago police had a visible presence at the beach Friday morning.

"I feel perfectly safe at the lakefront," Kuhlmann said. "I've never had any type of problem here."

Chicago's beaches are open through Labor Day. The park district says all city pools are expected to open June 17.

In addition to the beaches re-opening, Castaways Beach Club at North Avenue Beach is also set to reopen this weekend.