By GABRIELLA CRUZ-MARTÍNEZ
Organizers of Teen Halloween hosted a community forum Wednesday night at University Church, 5655 S. University Ave, to address community concerns after this year’s Halloween night violence which left a number vehicles destroyed, and at least 2 pedestrians injured. The police arrested 12 people.
Rachel Cane, who helped organize the party for teenagers at the Promontory, noted in a letter to Good Neighbors community group, “Our hope is that this will be a gathering of people with diverse views from diverse social circles, and that we can unify around some fundamental agreements about how we can all do better together throughout the upcoming year.”
The meeting drew in a number of community members and organizers, including Kenwood Academy students, a University of Chicago Police officer, and Ald. Sophia King (4th), who was there taking note of community concerns.
Participants discussed the history of Halloween on 53rd Street, an overview of this year’s Halloween night, and potential solutions for a more inclusive and safe event next year. Talking points and eye-witness accounts were presented by organizers and teen volunteers of the Teen Halloween event on The Promontory, followed by a community solution-building session.
“We had over 100 volunteers this year,” said Hyde Park resident Ebony Lucas. “Naturally what is highlighted, what is elevated and what gets most attention is the things that went wrong over the many things that went right. I’m not standing in front of you to lie to you or paint false narratives, things could have been better. We community members, vendors and business owners could have taken better steps to prepare for this party.”
“I want to say that on behalf of Kenwood Academy we are very sorry for what happened on Halloween night,” said Mya Minter, student body president at the school. “We are very appalled at the accusations that the students at Kenwood had to do something with this. It most certainly wasn’t us. We value leadership and service, and just a community as a whole… I just wanted to ensure that Kenwood is on your side.”
While the Teen Halloween was mentioned by many students to have been enjoyable, some community members felt that putting an end to events such as that one may help stop future incidents from happening.
“What happened was tragic. I’m not trying to make any excuses for it. I think that those who do things in the wrong should be punished for it,” said Brian McCoy, Teen Halloween volunteer.
“However, this doesn’t mean they should be kept out of our community, their just kids. We’ve all been kids. I’ve worked with these kids on both sides, and one thing I’ve learned is that all kids laugh the same when given the same resources and opportunities. We just have to work together to find something all teens can enjoy,” said McCoy.
Hunter Bounds, a sophomore at Kenwood suggested having inclusive activities at Harper Theater every week as one of the solutions to bring teenagers in peacefully. Free movie nights or discounted popcorn and soda open to all students [not just Kenwood students] would be a positive first step.
University of Chicago Police Captain Arthur Gillespie said he was saddened by the news of the violence in Hyde Park that night. As St. Thomas the Apostle school alum, the Hyde Park community is very dear to him as he had grown up here. While he did not work Halloween night, he was informed of the situation.
“I’m not here to speak for all officers, but I will say that the University of Chicago will take the acts of all the officers very seriously,” said University of Chicago Police Captain Arthur Gillespie. “We have been reviewing camera footage of officers that night. Any activity that was not professional or that is against our policies at the station will be addressed immediately.”
Dr. Rachel Cane, pediatrician at the University of Chicago said it was important to understand the situations these teens are going through, however complex they may be.
“We believe that a genuinely student-led initiative is a key for successful engagement. We want to offer young people opportunities for leadership, not only through the design and vision of these initiatives. Teen Halloween is about so much more than Halloween, and so much more than teenagers. It’s about building a safe environment and prosperous community. It’s about putting our values into action,” said Cane.
Ald. King said, “Our office doesn’t have all the answers, I’ve just been here listening all night taking notes and trying to come to some solutions. I think the biggest solution is that we need to bring in the community together and the conclusion is that organizations such as yours are part of the solution. The Hyde Park Neighborhood Club are perhaps a big part of the solution; I think definitely involving the teens are part of the solution.
“We need to continue to include our teens, they are going to come and be a part of it whether we choose to or not. We should choose to include them, to include them as part of the solutions and to try and have a better event next year… I look forward to continuing this conversation so that we can find a solution that is inclusionary, safe and fun for every group.”