Wednesday, July 02, 2014

OUR TWO CENTS: Manage The Parade, Reclaim Belmont

At a community meeting last July, Alderman Tom Tunney dismissed neighborhood concerns about the overwhelming nature and disastrous after-effects of the Chicago Pride Parade in a not-so-gentle way, claiming that one audience member who spoke up was "just one person" who had "an ax to grind."

This July, he made a sharp change of course:
Safety is my ongoing number one concern for our Ward. The problems that came with the post-parade late-night crowd will be addressed as we continue to examine the parade route and evaluate all options for next year.
Well, that escalated not-so-quickly. So now what? Should the parade be moved downtown to resolve the after-Pride mayhem?

Here's our two cents:  The issues that have been seen during and after recent Pride Parades are the  results of two forces colliding in one great big mess.

The city can move the parade if it needs to, but doing so will have no impact whatsoever on the neighborhood's ongoing street crime problem--a problem that is merely amplified after Pride.

#1: "100 Pounds Of Rainbows In A 5-Pound Bag"

First, the Pride Parade does not have one million spectators. If you don't believe us, listen to what the CEO of Chicago Special Events Management, the company that oversees major events such as Pride Fest and Market Days, said about the parade:
He said that even the Pride Parade, which had crowd estimates of 850,000 [in 2012] probably had closer to 250,000 people.
“Those are crazy numbers,” he said. “Think of the population and physical space. It would be impossible to have those many people lined up and down the streets.”
The problem is that the parade has grown exponentially in recent years and it has evolved into a free-for-all party in which everyone wants to be at the same spot: Roscoe and Halsted. Organizers tried to address the overcrowding on Halsted by lengthening the route in 2012, expecting people to spread out. The crowd didn't spread out and it won't spread out voluntarily.

Who wants to have a pride party at Broadway and Montrose? Your mom, that's who.

We'd like to see the parade stay in Boystown. It just feels right. It is right. But the organizers need to step up and figure out a way to alleviate the overcrowding before things go from bad  and really bad to being tragic.

How to do that? Dunno.

Try dangling carrots. Maybe set up some smaller events at outposts along the route. Bands or something to draw people away from the epicenter.

Try using sticks. Establish Halsted Street from, say, Cornelia to Aldine as a VIP zone. To be there, you need to buy a ticket. Set up some grandstands. Make it fabulous.

Maybe liquor establishments should be barred from serving booze from one hour before the parade until one hour after.

That's all top-of-the-head stuff. But it's a start.

#2: The Criminal Beachhead On Belmont Avenue

The quarter -mile stretch of Belmont between Halsted and Seminary has always been a little sketchy. A vibrant mix of skinheads, hookers, and people who probably oughta get back on their meds. But Belmont's sketchiness has gone from "Dude, I just saw a guy pierce his own nut sack" to "Dude, I just saw a guy get the sh!t beat out of him by 8 verrrry masculine girls."

Sunday morning, we reported that at least 10 people had been robbed on that short stretch of Belmont in three weeks. Most of those people received complimentary beat-downs in the process. Sunday night, two more people were worked over and robbed there.

One of Sunday's victims could have thrown a rock and hit the group of cops who were guarding the scene of a shooting at Belmont and Sheffield. The cops' presence meant nothing to the criminals.

One of the other victims was strong-armed next to the Belmont L tracks while two CPD Transit Detail units sat outside of the station entrance. Beyond brazen.

The city must neutralize the criminal element that has established a beachhead on Belmont Avenue. How? Well, just parking cops there doesn't seem to work. So we'll throw out a few ideas:

• Address the loitering. When neighbors go to CAPS meetings and complain about serious loitering issues and car parties, they are told that there's nothing the police can do. "Unless they're doing something wrong, they have every right to be there," is the boilerplate response. So, explain this:

Hours after the Pride Parade wrapped up, the 19th district's #2 officer issued these orders to cops assigned to clear loiterers from Belmont and Halsted:  "If they are not in a business or waiting in line for a business, they have to move."

One random Friday morning last July, a go-getter sergeant told an overnight paddy wagon team, "Go keep an eye on [the Belmont Red Line station]. Keep it clear. And if they start gathering by the L, let them know that if they are not using CTA services, they will be arrested for trespassing." We need more of that kind of policing. A lot more.

• Restaff our police district. Its manpower must be returned to a reasonable level. They've taken away 25% of our cops in the past two years. Fewer cops means more and more serious crimes receive less-than-vigorous police responses. If four units respond to a robbery, they can conduct a search, talk to people, and maybe have a 30% chance of catching the guy. If one unit responds, that guy is not going to get caught. He will be emboldened and will return to rob yet another neighbor.

As of yesterday afternoon, charges had been filed in just four the 60 robberies reported in Wrigleyville and Boystown so far this year.

• Enlist the attorneys and city services. The city's experts need to be brought on-board to determine what additional steps are at our disposal. Lawyers are paid to find ways to get things done legally. If Alderman Tunney can craft, sponsor, and succeed in passing an ordinance that requires smoke shops to tell the city how many square feet of their stores are occupied by bongs, he can certainly craft ordinances to shore up areas the lawyers deem lacking.

• Everyone needs to step up or step aside.

Bottom line: The city can move the parade if that's what is necessary, but Belmont Avenue is not going anywhere.
----------
Email us.  Facebook us. Twitter us.