Sunday, July 5, 2009

Quick hit: Safe at the Taste but what about the 'hood?

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis (l) with Mayor Richard M. Daley

I was walking my dogs near the Taste of Chicago venue this morning, the final day of the food fest, and was marveling at how well it went this year. The physical security measures that were put in place in relatively short order for the first time this year have made all the difference.

Last year's shocking shootout in the Loop following the July 3rd fireworks (four people shot, one fatally), put Chicago Police and new chief Jody Weis, and Mayor Daley on notice that things had to change. Daley, especially, had extra incentive for a glitch-free Taste, as he is mortgaging our city's time, talent and resources on a formidable shot at getting the 2016 Olympics.

Dedicated entrances and exits, gates and tarps around normally open areas of Grant Park and uniformed 5-0 walking in packs throughout Grant Park and at CTA stations made a noticeable difference this year. Also, having Taste workers check bags added an extra measure of security. Weis also reported that there would be increased plainclothes officers and that police would be closely monitoring police cameras strategically placed near the festival.

So far, success. As of today, there have been only a handful of arrests and no major incidents in or around the festival site.

I live near the Taste venue and, frankly, appreciated the police presence. I actually joked with an officer that those few city blocks had to be the safest and most heavily patrolled in the city. Safer eating a turkey leg at the Taste than anywhere else in the city for these few days. He agreed.

But it got me thinking -- if the best and brightest among the Chicago Police Department can strategize and devise a plan well enough to protect tourists and other visitors coming downtown to get their grub on, why can't we dedicate that kind of strategy, time and talent toward protecting residents in some of our roughest neighborhoods?

Although Chicago Police reported on Friday that there was a 10.4 percent drop in crime citywide in June compared to June 2008, it is little consolation as news reports of black children -- being shot by one another and police -- continues to grow.

Just Thursday, police shot and killed 16-year-old Rakeem Nance in the West Side's Lawndale neighborhood after they claimed he pointed a gun at them -- a story that's being challenged by several witnesses, including one who said on the record that the young man was actually trying to pull up his pants. Is it possible that police mistook Rakeem's pulling up his pants for reaching for a gun? That gets into an entirely different rant for a different day about these brothers and their sagging pants...but today the fact still remains that Chicago Police have gunned down another young black man -- which seems to happen in disproportionately high numbers in Chicago.

Where are all those great police minds when it comes to patrolling Lawndale, Englewood, Humboldt Park, the "Wild 100s" and what's left of the public housing corridor? The time, attention and resources spent protecting Mayor Daley's central business district are gravelly needed in the city's high crime areas. Security cameras hoisted above these neighborhoods has made some difference but not enough to dismantle and diffuse the gangbangers from shooting in broad daylight, and not enough to stop police shootings against young men whose actual alleged guilt is sometimes dubious. And frankly, the city's CAPS and faith-based programs are making little difference.

By failing to dedicate resources and devise a comprehensive plan for these neighborhoods like he did for the Taste, Mayor Daley, and by extension Chicago Police, continues to devalue the lives and safety of its most vulnerable residents -- the majority of whom, of course, are Black and Brown. Our neighborhoods shouldn't become a police state, but imagine the kind of impact in our neighborhoods of the kind of police presence and resources that were at the Taste.

Chicagoans deserve better than feeling safer grubbing on a turkey leg downtown at the Taste than in their own neighborhoods or in their own homes.

On the real,


  1. Well said. I think that apathy on the part of police officers and fear of retaliation on the part of citizens in our neighborhoods (I live in a great neighborhood, but grew up on the west side) account for some of this.


    We stopped by the Taste on our way out of town and they stopped me to check my PURSE! I almost fell out! Checking purses at the taste?

    They were not playing around!

    I truly wish some of the care and security being offered to all of our taste-goers was offered to our children who are being shot and killed riding the bus, walking home from school, or while washing their dogs... I need them babies to have the same peace that those of us who went to the taste were granted!

  3. One word. Tourists. The Taste is a huge tourist attraction so of course they would up the police presence.