Crystal King-Smith, Wentworth district commander for the Chicago Police Department, has requested that community organizers of a “Hyde Park Halloween” for local teenagers scale down their original plans.
There will no longer be a DJ, a spoken word exhibition, Nerf wars, or bubble soccer for teenagers coming to the event, as originally planned. Five-dollar movies will still be shown in Harper Theater, and over 60 adult volunteers will be present in the area on the nights of October 28 and October 31.
There will also be a prisoner transport vehicle nearby as a visual deterrent for possible vandals.
“That was at the request of the police officers who worked Halloween in Hyde Park last year…. This is what the officers need in order to do their job,” event organizer LaKeisha Hamilton said.
Last Halloween, hundreds of teenagers converged on 53rd Street to “purge” the area, throwing eggs and shooting paintball guns, resulting in arrests. Hyde Park Halloween has been planned as a response to this unrest.
“[The teenagers had] been there for years, but due to social media, the number of young people who were there last year increased,” Hamilton explained.
The goal of Hyde Park Halloween was to distract teenagers who were planning on coming to “bust on Hyde Park,” in a similar vein to last year’s “purge,” Hamilton said.
Organizers believe that King-Smith asked them to scale down their plans due to a lack of backing from local politicians and a shortage of police officers to station at the event.
“Due to the commander’s budget of limited officers for this year, she asked us to scale back,” Hamilton said. “I think she got the sense that it wasn’t supported correctly, because she said go ahead and do it next year.”
Hamilton went on to say that the aldermen could have assisted the event by getting the necessary permits and insurance.
She and other organizers cite lack of involvement in the project on the part of Fourth Ward Alderman Sophia King and Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston as one of the main reasons that King-Smith pulled her support from the project.
“The alderwomen didn’t ask and didn’t offer anything. They didn’t offer to give us any donations, they didn’t offer to assist in the insurance or permits…. None of those offers were made,” Hamilton said.
Hairston’s office declined to comment, and King’s and King-Smith’s offices did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Community member Gabriel Piemonte, who runs programs for local youth, thinks that Hyde Park Halloween has brought racial tensions to the surface.
“Something that the community has deliberately made an important characteristic of the neighborhood is that it is a safe space for people of color, and a safe space for mixed-race gatherings, more so than anywhere on the South Side of Chicago,” Piemonte said of Hyde Park. He added that despite this, prejudice still exists.
Hamilton’s fellow volunteer Randy Wright emphasized that most of the teenagers coming on Halloween are not looking for confrontation, but that they may be coerced by others.
“What became clear to me was that [the aldermen] weren’t interested in entertaining other people’s children in Hyde Park and that if something went wrong, they would get the blame,” volunteer coordinator Rachel Cane said. “I think their main interest is staying in office and complaints and pressure speak a lot to them.... If they wanted to help host the activities, they could.”
Piemonte attributed the aldermen’s silence in part to concern about angering local voters worried about the large groups of young people coming to Hyde Park.
“Politicians don’t want to directly contradict or do something that makes the people who are voting for them angry by giving the appearance that they’re welcoming or drawing into the neighborhood these kids—even though they’re coming either way,” he said.
However, Cane and Hamilton made clear that Hyde Park Halloween, though scaled down, is still on. They hope to organize a more robust celebration in 2018.