Wilding in the Gold Coast

I received a few e-mail messages this week from people asking why, in light of all the minutae and unimportant things I cover in this blog, I haven’t said word one about the recent attacks by gangs of thugs in Streeterville, the Gold Coast, and the Near North Side.

Chicago mounted police officer at Burnham Harbor

Chicago mounted police officer at Burnham Harbor

In short, because I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said by others who I consider better, smarter, and faster than me.  I’ve been quietly watching and reading the television and newspaper reports waiting for a worthwhile thought that hasn’t already been expressed.  For what it’s worth, the Sun-Times, WBBM-TV, and WBBM-AMHD are doing the best jobs covering this phenomenon right now.

In the echo chamber that is the blogging world, the discussion has gone from “What the heck is happening?” to “This happens all the time in the ‘hood” to “Why are they calling it a ‘flash mob?'” to “Why won’t anyone call these hate crimes?”  All heat, no light.

But since I’ve been asked, I will answer with a few thoughts:

  1. It’s called “wilding,” not “flash mob.” Back in the 1980’s there was s long summer of similar anti-social gang attacks in New York, and the phrase was coined.  See the regionally famous Central Park Jogger case.  The modern term “flash mob” appears to have come out of Philadelphia and is being used because the attacks are being coordinated through cell phones and social media, the same way that entertaining flash mobs are.  Back in 1989 the mob attacks were also coordinated through social means.  Except back then “social” meant people talking to one another face-to-face.
  2. Chicago’s brand new police chief saw this coming. Practically the first public thing out of SuperNintendo Gary McCarthy’s mouth when he agreed to become Chicago’s top cop was the phrase “flash mob,” as a term for a gang of thugs out on a mugging and beating spree.  He said it in response to pressure from downtown merchants who have been dealing with a coordinated shoplifting epidemic for close to a year now.  The thugs know the shopgirls are not allowed to stop them if they try to walk out with something.  The insurance companies won’t let them.  Mutual of RockFarm would rather reimburse the store $2,000 for a stolen purse than $40,000 for an employee with a knife wound.  More and more stores are hiring private, often undercover, security guards because they are being hit daily or even more by both independent and contracted shoplifters.
  3. Alderman Reilly was probably dreading this day. Very early in his term as alderman, I approached Brendan Reilly’s office about a safety-related matter in the Gold Coast.  I was stunned to learn that the Streeterville/Near North/Gold Coast area has for years been shorted its allotment of police officers.  And not by just a few.  But hundreds.  The prevailing theory at the time was that the people who live along the lakefront are civilized enough to mostly take care of themselves, so the officers were redeployed to other areas of the city.  I learned from other people that this was primarily a budget-balancing move by the Daley administration.  So it was only a matter of time before the wolves noticed a nice flock of fat, tasty sheep just over the river.
  4. People who pose the uninformed rhetorical question “this happens all the time in the ‘hood, why is the media blowing it out of proportion?” tend to be white, upper-middle class suburbanites who couldn’t find the “hood” without help from the GPS in their minivans. Yes, robbery sprees by gangs of thugs do happen in bad neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities.  The reason these are getting publicity isn’t because they’ve moved into “good” neighborhoods. It’s because there have been so many attacks in such a short time in such a small area.  In a city the size of Chicago, these things happen.  So do UFO sightings.  If there were 10 UFO sightings in two weeks in one neighborhood, you can bet the police and TV stations would be camped out there, too.

Now, for someone who actually has something informed to say about the situation, here is an e-mail that came in a few minutes ago from Alderman Reilly (42nd ward):

Dear Neighbor:

I am writing to provide you with an update regarding our concerted effort to address the recent criminal activity and violence along the Lakefront and in downtown Chicago. Please know this issue has my fullest attention and I have devoted long hours over the past week to ensure this very serious problem receives the attention it deserves and is resolved quickly.

The safety and security of downtown residents, visitors and tourists remains my highest priority. As soon as I received reports of recent “multiple offender incidents” along the Lakefront and in the Streeterville community, I contacted the highest levels of the Chicago Police Department; including 18th District Police Commander Angarone, to request more police resources and a comprehensive plan to address these unacceptable conditions immediately.

In addition, I spoke with Mayor Emanuel about these incidents during our City Council meeting this week to request additional police resources.  He is firmly committed to working with Police Superintendent McCarthy to help us put an end to this disturbing trend and maintain downtown Chicago’s global reputation as a friendly, clean and safe place to live, work and visit.

What is happening along the Lakefront and in downtown Chicago?

Over the past week, there have been several disturbing incidents involving large groups of teenagers robbing individuals along the Lakefront and in Streeterville – in some cases assaulting victims in the process. Since the incidents that started over the weekend, it has been reported that 32 people have been arrested in connection with robberies and disturbances involving multiple people (known as “multiple offender incidents” not “flash mobs”) in the Near North District.

What is being done to address this serious safety concern?

Early Sunday morning, I learned that a series of “multiple offender incidents” had taken place on Saturday night along the Lakefront Trail and in the Streeterville neighborhood. I immediately contacted Commander Angarone to discuss the specific incidents and to request an aggressive police response to ensure the Lakefront and downtown neighborhoods are properly secured.

I have made it very clear to the Chicago Police Department that current safety conditions along the Lakefront and downtown are totally unacceptable and must be addressed swiftly and aggressively with more public safety resources.

I am grateful to Commander Angarone and the officers of the 18th Police District for their hard work and recent success in apprehending the violent juveniles who were assaulting and attempting to rob local residents and visitors in Streeterville and along the Lakefront Trail on Saturday evening.

That said, while we should celebrate good police work that results in arrests, it is more important that these crimes are prevented from occurring, not just solved after they have been committed. I am pleased to report the Chicago Police Department shares this view, has added new resources and is executing plans to enhance the visibility and deployment of officers throughout downtown.

The following steps have been taken this week to address this issue:

  • Increased police resources and personnel downtown and on Lakefront
  • Homeland Security cameras are being monitored 24 hours a day
  • Enhance police presence at CTA stations (undercover and uniformed)
  • Partnering with downtown institutions and building doormen / security
  • Police personnel positioned in high visibility locations downtown

Please know that my office is coordinating directly with the appropriate city departments at the highest levels to ensure this public safety concern is addressed immediately, early in the summer season, to send a strong message to those who seek to commit crime along the Lakefront that there will be zero-tolerance for violence downtown and the response will be swift and severe.

I take incidents like these very seriously and, while I do not manage the Chicago Police Department, I am working closely with Mayor Emanuel, Superintendent McCarthy and Commander Angarone to secure the resources we need to keep downtown Chicago a safe and secure place to live, work and visit.

What you can do to avoid being a victim:

  • If you witness an incident or suspicious behavior, call 911 immediately.
  • When calling 911 be sure to provide a detailed description of the individual(s) including approximate height, weight, clothing or other unique characteristics.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings and avoid walking and sending text messages at the same time.
  • Do not carry valuables in plain sight and avoid wearing expensive, flashy jewelry that can attract attention.
  • Travel in groups, whenever possible (especially in the evening).
  • Avoid secluded or poorly-lit areas such as parks, alleys and vacant lots during late night and early morning hours.

How you can help be a part of the solution:

Participate in the Community Policing (CAPS) Program!

An extremely important way to resolve ongoing neighborhood safety issues is to report them at your monthly CAPS meetings. CAPS meetings offer city residents an opportunity to address crime and safety issues directly with the beat cops who patrol their neighborhood, as well as to provide ongoing feedback, which helps the police to monitor crime issues.

If you would like further information regarding upcoming CAPS meetings, please call your Police District’s CAPS office.

  • 1st District: 312-745-4381
  • 12th District: 312-746-8306
  • 13th District: 312-746-8355
  • 18th District: 312-742-5778

To find your district and beat, please click here.

Become a Court Advocate!

The CAPS program also needs participants in the Court Advocacy Program. The CAPS partnership does not stop when the police make an arrest. To have a long-term impact on the safety of our neighborhoods, the community needs to let the offenders know that we care even after an arrest is made.

The Court Advocacy program is an integral part of CAPS. Each of the 25 police districts has a Court Advocacy Subcommittee. The Court Advocacy Subcommittees, working with the Police Department, identify and track cases of interest to the community. Volunteers then attend court dates associated with those cases.

Court Advocacy Subcommittees play an important role in advancing the goals of making our neighborhoods safer. First, volunteers provide support for victims and witnesses who may be hesitant to testify in court. The presence of Court Advocacy volunteers from their community can make the difference in whether a victim or witness decides to appear in court.

Second, the presence of Court Advocacy volunteers sends a strong message to the defendant, the judge and all other interested parties in the criminal justice system: the community cares about the outcome of these cases and is willing to devote its time and energies to monitoring the workings of the judicial system. Court advocacy is a way to show support for victims and solidarity against crime in your community.

If you would like further information regarding becoming a Court Advocate, please call your Police District’s CAPS office.

  • 1st District: 312-745-4381
  • 12th District: 312-746-8306
  • 13th District: 312-746-8355
  • 18th District: 312-742-5778

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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