Planning, de-escalation strategies, weather aided more peaceful Halloween night in Hyde Park, organizers say

A man who declined to be named hands out treats in the front yard of his home on Harper Avenue on Halloween evening. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

Organizers and volunteers behind the Halloween programming in Hyde Park ascribed this year’s relative success — only three detainments and no widespread property damage — to the day’s unseasonably snowy and cold weather, but they said that months of planning and an emphasis on de-escalation showed the way to more success in the future.

Jonathan Williams, the senior class vice president at Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., who helped with the planning, said the night was an improvement on last year’s Halloween, when a dozen people were arrested.

“I think there are some things that we need to focus on specifically,” he said. “There are kids who really just want chaos, and there’s nothing that’s going to stop them — no amount of fun activities planned are going to stop them from having their tricks.”

Without the de-escalation volunteers, Williams said that the night would have become “more chaotic early in the night.”

When fights broke out near the stage around 8:30 p.m., however, organizers shut down the concert, and police began to clear the secured area centered on 53rd Street and Harper Court. Police later detained people along Hyde Park Boulevard.

“Once it’s started, once those first few people started fighting, everyone else started fighting,” Williams said. “I saw that starting to form; it was just me and two other people, and we weren’t going to be enough to try to dissolve that area.”

Next time, he said, altercations need to stopped before they start; to do that, he wants to see more de-escalating volunteers and personnel on the streets.

“Just stepping into that and saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t OK,'” Williams said, adding that de-escalators reminded attendees that the concert was ongoing with prizes for dancing, that a movie was playing at the Harper Theater, 5238 S. Harper Ave., and that police were on the scene. “You have to look them in the eyes, and you have to tell them that this is unacceptable. Because if they see fear, they’ll keep going. If they see fear in you, they don’t think you’re serious, they’ll keep going.”

Calvin King, who had been involved in training volunteers, spent the night registering them in the Hyatt Place lobby, 5225 S. Harper Ave. He said that the basketball tournament still occurred in spite of the snow, though it was moved to Nichols Park, 1355 E. 53rd St.

He reiterated his intention to recruit some of the young people who came to Hyde Park this year to help plan next year’s programming.

“I really want the young people who come to these events to have a stake in planning and securing the event,” King said, adding that some of the attendees did not know all of the event’s festivities or thought it cost money.

Williams lauded the “no-nonsense,” “warm and very friendly” party at The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave W., which volunteer Lauren Reeves said occurred peacefully.

“We had an estimated 350 or so youth who were there,” she said. “Everyone had a really great time. It was a really joyous, lively atmosphere.”

The Teens on 53rd organization, a program of the Blue Gargoyle, 5655 S. University Ave., Suite 27, organized this year’s event at The Promontory, though they included in the broader planning convened by Ald. Sophia King (4th). The event was inside the security perimeter around 53rd Street.

“My sense is that the engagement and the hard work that everyone who was involved did this year was a really great example of what we can do if we all come together,” Reeves said. “There were just an enormous range of people who were involved in the effort really shows how much cross-collaboration we can do and how great we can work together when we need to and want to.”

This year’s Halloween was not marked by the property damage that occurred last year. Hyde Parker Bennie Currie spearheaded the CollaBOOration plan, wherein block captains encouraged residents to keep their lights on and maintain a presence on the streets into the evening, to prevent this. Around 30 blocks took part. Currie called the night fantastic and cold.

“I think obviously Mother Nature was a factor,” he said. “So was the presence of Hyde Parkers and residents.”

If the weather had been warmer, more youth would have come to the neighborhood, he surmised, but he thinks more residents would have been on the streets, too: “If there were more kids, based on our concept, I think the outcome would have been similar.” He noted that Oct. 31, 2020, will fall on a Saturday.

The year’s experience will only make the effort easier and more effective in years to come, Currie said. A review meeting is planned for Nov. 8.

“I think it’s a new way of approaching Halloween this year and beyond,” he said. “I think in the end that’s a good thing, because you get to know your neighbors better — there’s lots of benefits for taking the course to do that.”

State Sen. Robert Peters’ (D-13th) assisted in the planning process that Alds. Sophia King (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) led, and he was on the streets for most of the night.

“It was beautiful to see the music and the community work together,” he said, both in terms of the programming on 53rd Street and the CollaBOOration effort, wherein residents monitored and maintained a presence on their blocks into the evening. He stressed the “community accountability” between youth, police and residents.

“If you have all the stakeholders doing this together in one location — providing all the resources people need — it can be done right, and I think we all saw that,” he said “At some point we had a few dust-ups here and there, but they weren’t really that big, and I was basically out there because I wanted to see everything.”

Peters refuted a characterization that the event had been marred because of the earlier-than-scheduled end of the concert, called off because of fighting in front of the stage, or later detainments by the police.

“The main thing I want to lift up from last night … is that there were hundreds of kids who had music, a gaming truck, food — an area to participate in with the community,” he said. “I think that is what needs to be lifted up here, because that’s what happened last night, and it was good.

“I cannot stress enough that all these Black and Brown kids within a multi-racial community showing what this can look like was good and was a model for how we can do things in a safe and just manner,” said Peters, who grew up in Hyde Park. “When I was a teenager, we didn’t have that. We didn’t have a place to just go and hang out, and we did here.”

De-escalation volunteers from Good Kids Mad City (GKMC), a youth-led anti-violence group, however, took issue with the police response to the evening.

“From start to almost finish, I believe that the actual event started off kind of ‘dry,’ or not as energized as it should have been, but as time went on it became more interesting and entertaining,” said volunteer Maria Bradley. She said police intervened as GKMC de-escalators were attempting to defuse the fights that eventually ended the concert, at which point the night “took a turn for the worse.”

Volunteer China Smith said, “In a situation like this, you would not need need police officers, because these are unarmed teenagers, and de-escalators are not going to get super-physical but actually de-escalate.” She said the police agitated the situation and characterized the detainment of a person on the stage overly physical, which she said heightened tensions.

“Instead of us being allowed to do our jobs, we were pushed out of the way,” Smith said. She urged having more de-escalators on the street next year and having them dress more visibly.

“Our whole approach to the situation is that we didn’t want the kids to feel criminalized. Since we didn’t want the kids to feel criminalized, we made it very clear that we would offer de-escalation and recommend more de-escalation,” she added. “It ended up being more police officers than de-escalators.”

The Chicago Police declined comment but said they would do so on Monday.