Following Up on Chicago’s Independence Eve Violence

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

Yesterday’s Chicagosphere post on alleged gang violence during Chicago’s Independence Eve fireworks turned out to be one of today’s top stories on ChicagoNow. That post compared official reports of a relatively “peaceful” July 3rd fireworks display with reports from the blog, Second City Cop, and several Twitter members indicating a sizable gang presence, multiple gang-related fights, numerous guns recovered, and a potential shooting or serious injury at or around 8:30 p.m. in the vicinity of Buckingham Fountain (follow the above link for more details.) Today on Chicagosphere, I’m here to tell you we intend to get to the bottom of things–and how you can help us do that.

There are distinct differences between traditional and online news gathering. Traditional media can be overly concerned with holding back the news until every possible iota of doubt is absent–and every possible edge above the competition is leveraged.

That strategy doesn’t work so well on a cooperative, transparent online playing field. Instead, here on the blogosphere, we can reach out to our existing social networks–bloggers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc.–and engage (or “crowd-source”) them in helping find an answer to a question or solution to a problem that affects us all.

The strategy offers immediate benefits. It’s the one I followed yesterday in researching, reporting on, and developing a wide-reaching discussion around a story of alleged July 3rd gang violence with the potential to affect every Chicagoan entering the Taste of Chicago grounds or attending the Independence Eve fireworks.

(Video: Watch me sign my FOIAs as I continue to research what really happened on Independence Eve.)

After publishing yesterday’s post, I reached out to every major community news website in Chicago, contacted several bloggers including the editors of Second City Cop, asked my Twitter followers to retweet my request for additional information, reached out to my friends on Facebook, and engaged in the conversation in the comment threads of every site that picked up on the story–and almost every site that I contacted did just that.

The result has been dozens of comments here and on other Chicago-based media sites including Gapers Block, Windy Citizen, Chicago Carless, the Beachwood Reporter, Chicagoist, Huffington Post Chicago, Second City Cop, and the WBEZ Chicago Public Radio blog.

Many of those comments point to something having taken place on the evening of July 3rd that has not been reported in major media or confirmed by the city. The only semi-official word has been from Megan McDonald, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, posting several times in yesterday’s comment thread, who was at Buckingham Fountain around the time of the alleged injury and who confirms having seen unrest in the crowd but nothing more.

I also received an email from the editor of a regular reader of Second City Cop who reported having been on the Taste of Chicago detail for much of last week, urging me to file a Freedom of Information Act request for the 911 call tapes from Independence Eve.

And that’s just what I’ve done. This afternoon I filed FOIAs on that information and a whole lot more from the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department, and the Mayor’s Office. Anyone familiar with how the FOIA process works in Chicago knows I probably won’t hear back from anyone for a couple of months, and even then I may receive a denial letter or a stack of papers with key information redacted.

But it’s a start–and it’s something that every Chicagoan can do if they think the Windy City powers that be are holding something close to the vest that the public has a right to know. It doesn’t look like the city wants to make it easy for you to do that, though. You won’t be surprised when I tell you the city’s official FOIA page offers the wrong FOIA form for download. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office is more helpful, offering guidance on the FOIA process and a downloadable PDF template to write your own FOIA request.

If you want to know what happened the evening of July 3, 2009 at Chicago’s Independence Eve fireworks, you, too, can FOIA the information.

Send FOIA requests for arrest and incident records to the Chicago Police Department here:

Chicago Police Department
Records Inquiry Division
3510 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60653

Send FOIA requests for EMS transport records to the Chicago Fire Department here:

Chicago Fire Department
Freedom of Information Office
10 35th Street, 14th Floor
Chicago, IL 60616

FOIA security reports regarding the Taste of Chicago from the Mayor’s Office by writing directly to the all-purpose Mayor’s Correspondence Unit here:

David Daskal, Director
Mayor’s Correspondence Unit
121 North LaSalle Street, Room 406
Chicago, IL 60602

While we’re waiting on the city, in the meanwhile I ask that you reach out to your own personal networks–both flesh-and-blood and online–and inquire whether anyone saw anything happen on Independence Eve that hasn’t been reported in the media. I especially want to hear from Chicago police, EMS, and city workers who can remain anonymous as the spirit moves them.

We likely aren’t at the bottom of this yet. But we’ll get there–and we’ll get there as an online community engaging in dialogue about the issues that affect our lives in the real world.

Finally, some have asked me why print media hasn’t picked up this story. I’ve reached out to print reporters in the past 36 hours. I was told by one that there’s no way to research an incidence of violence in a million-strong crowd.

My rebuttal to that answer is this post.

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