Neighbors, Police Discuss Violence In Boystown
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UPDATED 07/06/11 9:48 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Hundreds of Lakeview residents turned out for a CAPS meeting Wednesday night, days after a brutal attack on the Boystown strip of North Halsted Street, which left a man stabbed.
The attack was captured on videotape and has since gone viral, prompting concerns about safety among Lakeview residents. Police have been trying to ease fears about safety in the city’s most popular gay nightlife district.
As CBS 2′s Mike Parker reports, Chicago police officials and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) led a Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium at the Inter-American Magnet School, 851 W. Waveland Ave.
The videotaped attack prompted about 600 people to the meeting in a sweltering, un-air conditioned grade school cafeteria.
Tunney said he understands the residents’ fears and he wants more cops on the streets.
“I’m a victim of robbery myself. I understand everyone’s concern and I share it,” he said.
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Tunney said the loss of 3,000 to 4,000 officers in recent years is unacceptable. He also has said he would be doing all in his power to get more police officers out on the streets.
He said people are drawn to the area from miles around as an entertainment destination, but budget constraints have cut the number of police officers on the streets by 3,000 to 4,000. With this in mind, Tunney said an “entertainment detail” should be set up to increase police protection in Boystown.
Tunney said he has asked the Belmont and Town Hall police districts to keep him up to date about how many officers are deployed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day. If it seems there are not enough, Tunney said, he will ask the command staff to do anything possible to get more officers out.
Furthermore, Tunney said quotes calling the incident “isolated” are inaccurate.
“We have been dealing with late night crime on our streets for years. As a victim of a robbery myself, I understand everyone’s concern and I share it,” Tunney said in the statement. “We all need to be aware of our surroundings and not be afraid to call 911 with as much information as possible when you see someone behaving suspiciously or committing a crime. We all must work with the police to effectively fight crime.”
Several local residents chimed in during the CAPS meeting on Wednesday.
“If there are at least three officers on the night shift, so to speak, that could be bicycling up and down the street, some of this stuff wouldn’t happen,” one woman said at the meeting.
Others said increasing the number of police officers in the city isn’t the only solution.
One man suggested “the installation of emergency police call box pillars similar to those used on collegiate campuses.”
But the man who shot the now famous video of the attack had a slightly different take.
“It takes a community and when you leave here tonight, you can’t rely on these folks to do everything for you, you need to go out there and be the eyes and ears. You need to help them out just as much as they are helping you,” Lakeview resident John Cunningham said.
Many of the people who planned to attend told CBS 2′s Suzanne Le Mignot that this is a time for the community to work together while others said they hope the recent violence doesn’t make them a target.
“When it’s someone of color that’s caught in the act of violence, it’s something that reflects on the entire community,” said Joshua McCool, a member of the LGBT activist group Gender JUST. The group describes itself as a grassroots organization of queer and transgender youth of color.
Members said they hope incidents like this don’t translate into the racial profiling of young people in Lakeview.
“We don’t want to use this act of dealing with violence as an excuse to profile a community of color and queer youth of color,” McCool said.
Tunney has said that, while he’s asked local police districts to give him a count of how many officers are on the streets overnight, the business community has hired off-duty officers to work overnight and on weekends.
Among the organizations doing just that is the Center on Halsted, a longtime LGBT community center.
CEO Modesto Valle said, “We have been in partnership with the police department, the alderman and the business alliance for now over a year meeting almost monthly to talk about solutions for the community around safety and security.”
The Northalsted Business Alliance has been footing the bill for off-duty officers to patrol the community to the tune of $68,000 the past two years. Another $56,000 will be spent this year.
In light of businesses paying for security, Tunney is proposing that the Police Department form a special entertainment area police detail to work the Lakeview and Boystown entertainment district.
On Tuesday, Town Hall District Police Cmdr. Kathleen Boehmer said police are working several leads in this weekend’s attack. No arrests had been made, however, as of Wednesday afternoon.
Boehmer also emphasized that the incident was not a hate crime.
“It should be noted that this is the only reported incident in this community in recent weeks when a group of individuals has been involved in the attack,” Boehmer said.
Boehmer said police were working on putting more foot, bicycle and tactical officers on the beats in the wake of a brawl and stabbing in Boystown over the weekend.
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The attack was caught on videotape and Boehmer said that should help police catch the attackers. She said the stabbing was an isolated incident and was not related to two other stabbings in the area last month.
One of those stabbings happened June 18 in the parking lot of the busy 7-11 store at Halsted and Roscoe streets. The Huffington Post reported the alleged offender in that case, Anthony Bledsoe, 20, was captured and detained by security at the bar Hydrate, 3458 N. Halsted St., and later charged.
Boehmer acknowledged a rise in crime in the area in recent weeks.
“We’re going to work to make sure that appropriate resources are deployed in the area. We have, in June, had a little uptick in robberies, which we’re addressing by putting the appropriate resources at the appropriate time,” she said.
“And we’re also going to receive some additional resources from the deputy chief’s office to make sure that the area continues to be safe and that the public realizes, continues to realize that this is a safe neighborhood.”
But a friend of the victim of the Saturday night incident told CBS 2′s Suzanne Le Mignot that attacks like the one this weekend have been common in the neighborhood.
“Believe it or not, this happens a lot,” John Hickman said of the attack on his friend. “I must say, that this is the first time someone was stabbed, that’s why it caught the news. But the group that you see and how the rowdiness was going on, it’s your standard everyday in Boystown.”
Hickman said for the past several months, there have been frequent similar attacks in Boystown. Police sources back up Hickman’s claim, adding that many of the attacks involve teens.
The victim in the Saturday night incident said he was attacked after words were exchanged between two groups.
Teens Say They’re Being Profiled For Race
The attacks are not only highlighting safety concerns in Boystown. Divisions with the community are drawing concerns and complaints, particularly from African-American teens who say they are being profiled as a result of the incidents.
The group Gender JUST, which describes itself as “a grassroots organization of queer and transgender youth of color,” is planning its own news conference at 6:30 p.m. before the community policing meeting.
They say residents and business owners in the area “have been scapegoating queer youth of color for recent incidents of violence in the Boystown area,” and say youth have been harassed in the neighborhood.
Debates about race and the place of teenagers in the community have been a major topic of discussion on the Take Back Boystown Facebook page. One member went so far as to call for shutting down the Center on Halsted, the GLBT community center that opened with much fanfare in 2007, and which draws young people from all over the city.
Others have characterized Boystown as an adult nightlife district intended only for those over 21.
“There is NO reason that anyone of any race should be hanging out on North Halsted if they are underage,” one member wrote. “This is a 21+ entertainment district for the GLBT community. This is supposed to be our safe area, and that certain people are using our area to create violence sickens me.”
The member added that venues for underage youth, like the old Medusa’s on Sheffield Avenue, should be created. But another member simply said a curfew should be implemented on Halsted Street for anyone under 21.
Gay Chicago Magazine recently pointed out that tensions between youth and neighborhood residents are not new. For many years, gay and lesbian youth from various parts of the city come to Boystown in the evening hours, but end up hanging out on the sidewalk because they are not old enough to get into the bars.