Is Chicago Covering Up Independence Eve Gang Shooting?

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(Photo: Chicago’s Independence Eve fireworks, now with extra daylight?)

This content originally appeared on my former Chicagosphere online-media blog, hosted on the Chicago Tribune‘s ChicagoNow network.

[UPDATE 7/7/09: See the July 7th continuation of this story: Following Up on Chicago’s Independence Eve Violence.]

Welcome to viewers referred from Gapers Block, Windy Citizen, Chicago Carless, the Beachwood Reporter, Chicagoist, Huffington Post Chicago, Second City Cop, the WBEZ Chicago Public Radio blog, and Topix.net.

For the second time in two years, Chicago’s Independence Eve fireworks started early. Last year’s reason? Gang violence, including four shootings–one fatal–after the display, that marred the evening and marked a controversial start for then-new Chicago police superintendent Jody Weis. This year, Chicago police brass reported gang activity yet again, in and adjacent to the Taste of Chicago grounds both before and after the show. Trouble is, the blogosphere is reporting a lot more violence–including potentially another shooting–than can be found in the city’s official version of events.

When Twitter friends @jasmined, @jefframone, @nitekong and I sat down on the grass at the north end of Monroe Harbor at 8:50 p.m. on Friday evening, we expected a 45-minute wait until the originally planned 9:30 p.m. start time for Chicago’s annual Independence Eve fireworks display. We–and very audibly, the dozens of people sitting around us–were happy but confused when the show began barely five minutes later, and a full half-hour earlier than scheduled.

Aware of the problems from 2008, I spent the rest of the evening and the next day searching for any news reports of violence during this year’s fireworks display. As of this writing, neither the Chicago Tribune nor the Sun-Times, both of which spoke directly to city officials, offers any reason for the early start of the 2009 show. The Sun-Times went so far as to call this year’s festivities “peaceful”–even while reporting on the arrest of a gang member attempting to carry a loaded shotgun into the Taste of Chicago.

To its credit, the Tribune went farther, reporting on that incident and several more, including pre-fireworks arrests in the area of Buckingham Fountain after–in the words of a Chicago police spokesperson–“some sort of disturbance,” and a 30-person gang melee at Michigan and Congress after the show.

That doesn’t sound like a peaceful evening to me.

According to the editors and commenters of the independent Chicago Police Department watchdog blog, Second City Cop, the official version of events given to the news media by city officials is far from the full story. Besides questioning the early fireworks start, their Independence Eve roundup, complied and augmented by anonymous Chicago police officers and insiders, lists numerous fights (like this video), arrests, gang marches, and shots fired.

(The blog also noted the early start of the July 4th Navy Pier display, which I witnessed personally, as well.)

So whom to believe? To compare the stories, I jotted down a thumbnail list of each version of events–the official, and the insider. Here’s what I found:

Events Reported to News Media by City Officials

–One gun-related arrest in afternoon (gang member with shotgun in bag.)
–Arrests for unspecified reasons at Buckingham Fountain at 8:30 p.m.
–No mention of early fireworks start.
–One major fight at 9:45 p.m. (30-person gang melee at Michigan and Congress.)
–Various small, unspecified incidents.

Events Reported by Second City Cop Blog

–Gang members “take over” Buckingham Fountain area and by one account officers are told by police commanders (“Gold Stars”) to “leave it alone, let them have it.”
–911 dispatchers report two people shot at Buckingham Fountain.
–A potential effort (noted here and here) to silence radio reports of shots fired or gang fights.
–Gangster Disciples “50 deep” walking through Taste grounds and throwing gang signs.
–Latin Kings platooning along Roosevelt Road and heading towards Taste grounds.
–Multiple gang fight calls (10-1s.)
–“Numerous chases” and “multiple weapons recovered.”
–Fireworks start at least half-an-hour early.
–At least ten significant gang fights along Michigan Avenue in addition to the large melee as crowds left the southern end of the Taste grounds.

Next, I checked in with my Twitter followers and performed several searches of Twitter’s public timeline to look for tweets that might bear out the Second City Cop version of events. Here’s a sampling of what I found:

“my first year at the taste of chicago fireworks and go figure a shooting occurs 10 ft away from me!”
(@chibookgrl, 7:00 p.m. Jul 4th)

“@chicagocarless It was all over. Whole bunch of cops took of on quads north on LSD. A lot over by LaSalle St. Station too”
(@mklingo 9:32 p.m. Jul 4th)

“@chicagocarless – definite gunfire – we were positioned on LSD, so of BF [Ed. note: Buckingham Fountain] – sitting next to 10 bike police”
(@designslinger, 11:55 p.m. Jul 4th)

“@chicagocarless – just following first fireworks, the first gunshots, the bike police said aloud, ‘That was a gunshot!'”
(@designslinger 11:56 p.m. Jul 4th)

So what really happened on Independence Eve? If the official version of events is to be believed, we had a relatively peaceful celebration. If the blogosphere/twitterverse version of events is true, then city officials are not giving the media the full story.

Of course, if the alternate account of a violence-laden event is the correct one, that would complicate matters for Chicago police superintendent Jody Weis and Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, both of whom have a vested interest in not seeing the headlines of violence from the 2008 fireworks show repeat themselves.

I leave it to you decide the real version of Independence Eve events. Either way, it was obvious from being at the fireworks display and along the lakefront that Chicago’s rank-and-file police officers were out in force and taking their jobs seriously. In my opinion–for this is a blog and not a news column–the fault, if any, doesn’t lie with them.

If you witnessed violence during this year’s Independence Eve fireworks show or have an opinion about what really happened the evening of July 3rd, please leave a comment.

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