WICKER PARK — A rash of violence stemming from gangs and rail-riding "gutter punks" has residents of a Northwest Side neighborhood unsettled, as debris from an overnight shooting remained at Wicker Park Saturday.
The incidents, which range from drug use to gun violence, are making the park unsafe at night and spilling into the streets, residents said.
"All we try to do is keep the park safe so law-abiding citizens of all races and ages can come to the park," said Doug Wood, a 20-year resident of the area. "Before 2002, people didn't feel safe to go to the park. Now, it's starting all over."
Wood has been lobbying for more security at the park, including after it closes at 11 p.m. He said the problems are generally at night and are making residents feel unsafe.
"It's fine during the day, but at night these people are annoying; they urinate all over things and leave empty beer cans and needles," said Wood. "This causes problems when you have people drinking all day and doing drugs in a high-usage area. It keeps people away from the park."
The latest incident was late Friday night, about 30 minutes after the park closed. Two men were wounded in a shooting police said is gang-related.
According to the Chicago Crime Commission, the Latin Kings street gang claims territory in the neighborhood, while the Maniac Latin Disciples, Gangster Disciples, Latin Jivers and Harrison Gents occupy parts of the neighborhood to the east and south. Sources say the Vice Lords are active as well.
Mike Payette has lived across the street from the park for 24 years and said he's seen the violence pick up in the last two years. Payette recently attended a community meeting to voice his concerns about daytime drinking and drugs in the park.
"I don't know any other place where there's drinking all day in a park. As a community person, I said, 'I have to stop that'," said Payette. "It's spreading to our neighborhood. They've got to close the park at 11 o'clock, if they want to control it."
At the advisory meeting he said he was told to call police anytime he saw suspicious behavior. He has since taken it upon himself to patrol the park nightly. Friday night, he said he saw two groups of four to six men congregating around the park shouting.
Payette was on the phone with police when he heard eight shots.
"One group jumped over the fence and ended up shooting the men at about the baseball fields. They were yelling quite loudly, and it ended up in the middle of the park," Payette said. "I was that close to being an innocent bystander."
Payette said violence from so-called "gutter punks" and gangs has been spilling out of the park for weeks, and this was not the first time he's had to call police.
"To my knowledge, we've never had the problems that we've had this year in the park," said Payette. "When I came in 1989, this was a tough area. It's disheartening to see the park revert."
Despite remnants of red police tape and blood, families with children enjoyed a Saturday morning in the park.
A 34-year-old woman who refused to be named took her son to the park early Saturday morning to see a puppet show. She saw the red tape still hanging from the fence but thought nothing of it.
"I though it was a prank. I guess we just denied it. I didn't think it was actually a crime scene," she said. "I don't think that would've stopped me though."