One year after the murder of a 25-year-old woman triggered the racially-charged closing of the Ohio Street underpass, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) wants to seal off the underpass at Chicago Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.
Hopkins said there was a “noticeable and dramatic decline” in overnight calls to 911 after the Ohio Street underpass was closed and he’s hoping for similar results at Chicago Avenue, which connects to Lake Shore Park.
“At 2, 3, 4 in the morning, an increasing number of people are using that to access Lake Shore Park from the trail, then having illegal parties. Drug use, alcohol, under-age consumption. All of that is happening. And we really need to stop that,” Hopkins said.
If the City Council approves Hopkins’ resolution and the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation follows it, the Chicago Avenue underpass would be locked between midnight and 5 a.m. from June to October. That would guarantee access for athletes using the lakefront trail for early-morning runs and bike rides.
Hopkins noted that Lake Shore Park is not far from the area where 10 people were recently pushed into the lake by a group of young people who did it just for the fun of it.
It’s also close to where a young suburban couple was surrounded by a group of thugs, culminating in the man being punched in face, hitting his head on the pavement and suffering a fractured skull.
But Hopkins said those frightening attacks are not the reason for the order. Instead, it’s a “seasonal effort” to control crowds creating havoc, infuriating residents of nearby high-rises.
“It’s every weekend. Even on some week nights, there’s large gatherings in the park during overnight hours. Illegal parties involving up to a hundred youth…In the morning, we’re finding a litter of bottles, cans, syringes, evidence of drug use,” Hopkins said.
“Park security are aware of it, but they’re overwhelmed and they’re not actual police officers either, so they’re really limited in what they can do. Neighbors are calling 911. One building on Pearson that borders the park has gone so far as to hire private security companies to help them in the overnight hours.”
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, refused to comment on Hopkins’ proposal to seal off the Chicago Ave. underpass.
When the Ohio underpass was closed, Beale denounced the move as racist.
Last year, the Chicago Park District was ordered to close the Ohio Street underpass between midnight and 5 a.m. from April through October in a controversial move that, once again, exposed the city’s racial divide.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) rushed the “order” — with an assist from Finance Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) — in response to the Father’s Day 2017 murder of 25-year-old Raven Lemons near the underpass used to access the beach and the lakefront trail.
Beale called it another example of the “double standard” that has long applied to crimes in white and minority communities.
“If we start closing streets every time somebody gets killed, we would have over 600 blocks in the black and brown communities shut down,” Beale said then.
“This is over-reaching, over-reacting. We deal with these types of things every single day in our communities. But when it happens downtown, [people say], ‘Let’s shut it down.’”
Beale complained then that a downtown area that has experienced a recent increase in violent crime already has more police officers “than anybody in the doggone city, and we want more.”
“And now, we’re gonna sit here and put an order in because . . . one person got killed downtown? I’m sorry. But where’s the sympathy for my community? Where’s the reaction when people of color are killed?” Beale said.
Reilly said he was “not here to trivialize the deaths of any individual who is shot” in Chicago “regardless of what color they are, what neighborhood they live in or where it happened.”
But he argued that the Chicago Police Department’s 18th District simply did not have the manpower to cover “multiple nightclub districts” and still “stand sentry” at multiple underpasses.
“I’m not suggesting that they allocate cops from high-crime areas to prioritize my ward . . . I’m trying to give the police additional tools to address the scarce resources we have downtown better,” he said.
Reilly emphatically denied that the underpass closing was a “knee-jerk” reaction to one violent crime in Streeterville.
He argued that the Ohio Street underpass has been a “going concern” for many years, in part, because it is “effectively a dead-end.”
“It’s poorly lit and it’s a major access point to and from the lakefront illegally after hours,” he said.