Organizers credit planning, weather for calm Halloween

 

By AARON GETTINGER
STAFF WRITER

It was the snowiest Halloween in Chicago history and the calmest in Hyde Park since teenagers began coming to the neighborhood en masse in 2016. But after a dozen were arrested in 2018, police detained only three Thursday night, and the neighborhood escaped the property damage it has experienced in recent years.

Organizers, led by Ald. Sophia King (4th), planned a concert on 53rd Street with basketball, movies and game and food trucks. The Teens on 53rd organization, a program of the Blue Gargoyle, 5655 S. University Ave., Suite 27, organized another party at The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave W., which went along peacefully, reportedly with up to 350 attendees — far more than attended the outdoor concert.

And a resident-organized CollaBOOration initiative activated blocks to remain illuminated and active after trick-or-treaters, who incorporated heavy winter coats into their costumes on a sub-freezing night, went home.

A smaller-than-expected crowd came to the concert on 53rd Street, where rappers performed and volunteers, including some from Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., endeavored to keep the peace. Attendees danced for cash prizes.

But fights broke out around 8:30 p.m. Organizers called off the concert, and officers from the Chicago and University of Chicago police departments, which had been involved in the planning process with King and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), dispersed the crowd.

Volunteers with Good Kids Mad City, a youth-led anti-violence group whom King had also invited to help plan, engaged with the youth, employing de-escalation techniques designed to keep the teenagers from getting arrested.

“You all don’t have to go home, that’s not what I’m saying. We know you’re all out here to have fun: Have fun,” said Taylore Norwood to youth on the 5400 south block of Lake Park Avenue. “But move around, don’t sit right here. This is not a game. They will arrest y’all. There were little girls just your size getting choked-slammed by 12s (police officers) last year.”

“We’re out here trying to help y’all,” she continued. “I’m not an adult: I’m 19. I’m trying to help y’all not get arrested. I need y’all to just disperse. Don’t stand here on this corner.”

Police did eventually detain the three youths between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the 1400 East block of Hyde Park Boulevard. Volunteers with the National Lawyers’ Guild Legal Office and Assata’s Daughters, a Chicago anti-police violence organization, tried to get their names and assured them that they would get attorneys.

Chartered CTA buses transported youths away from Hyde Park on Route 15, the Jeffrey Local Route, and the Route Stony Island 28. The streets were clear well before midnight.

Jonathan Williams, the senior class vice president at Kenwood Academy, said the night was an improvement on last year’s Halloween. Without the de-escalation volunteers, he said that the night would have become “more chaotic early in the night.”

“Once it’s started, once those first few people started fighting, everyone else started fighting,” he 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.”

Altercations need to stopped before they start next year, Williams said; to do that, he wants to see more de-escalating volunteers and personnel on the streets: “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, articulated in a Herald interview earlier in October, 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.

Bennie Currie, who spearheaded the CollaBOOration, said around 30 blocks took part in the effort, which he called a new way of approaching Halloween this year and beyond.” He said the year’s experience will only make the effort easier and more effective in years to come. A review meeting is planned for Nov. 8.

State Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th), who was raised in Hyde Park, assisted in the planning process and watched the evening unfold on the streets, 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.

“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,” he said. “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, took issue with the police response to the evening. Volunteer Maria Bradley 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 questioned the need for police officers when the attendees were unarmed teenagers. 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.”

If there was a consensus among organizers and volunteers, it was that de-escalation techniques were effective and a strategy to further pursue next year, when the weather may not play such a role in limiting turnout.

“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,” said Lauren Reeves, who volunteered at the party at The Promontory. “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.”

Staff writer Samantha Smylie and contributing writer Morley Musick contributed.

a.gettinger@hpherald.com