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Playground Near School Attracting Public Sex, Drug Dealing, Residents Say

By Sam Cholke | September 11, 2013 7:23am
 Dickerson Playlot became a haven for public sex and suspected drug dealing when the playground was renovations were delayed.
Dickerson Playlot
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HYDE PARK — Residents and police are working to clean up an unfinished playground in Hyde Park that has been attracting public sex, drinking and drug dealing in recent months.

“[Evidence of the illicit activities] didn’t appear until about two months ago,” said Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council. “I started finding underwear on the slides. The funniest thing I found were directions for putting on a condom.”

McCurry said the Dickerson Playlot across from Bret Harte Elementary School, 1556 E. 56th St., became a magnet for crime when crews began repairs to the lot in late July.

"It's sad to see this misuse of the park, particularly across from a school and in a playlot named for such an important leader of the African-American community as Earl B. Dickerson," said Gary Ossewaarde, a longtime volunteer at Jackson Park who lives close to the playlot. Dickerson was a prominent Chicago lawyer who fought housing discrimination against African-Americans in the 1940s.

The playground, last rehabbed in 1970 by Hyde Park volunteers, had become ragged and was one of 177 parks slated to get new equipment through a joint effort of Friends of the Park and the Chicago Park District. But the project was delayed when the wrong equipment was ordered for the park and the contractor backed out of the project, McCurry said.

“If you go down [to] the playground, you can’t be seen from the street,” McCurry said, adding that she visits the park twice a day to clean up discarded condom wrappers and small plastic bags frequently used for selling drugs.

On her morning walk through the park on Tuesday, McCurry said she found two empty bottles of tequila and a pair of burned socks. The upside? There were no condom wrappers, and the tree that often has human feces at its roots was clean.

McCurry said the Park District told her a new contractor had been found, and the playground would be rebuilt in the coming weeks, and she's been working with the Wentworth Police District to start doing sweeps of the park at night until things are cleaned up.

“After the first night [the police] came through, I found 30 dime bags on the ground, so they must have been freaked out,” McCurry said of the local drug dealers.

According to officers at the Wentworth Police District, police have patrolled the park on every watch since Sept. 1 and will continue the patrols.

The police have made no arrests at the park, according to officers at the Wentworth District, but do go into the park at 6 p.m. daily to clear out loiterers and other nuisances.

McCurry said she expected the continued presence of police at the park to keep it clear until the Park District can finish repairing the playlot.

A Park District representative was not immediately able to say when the new playground equipment would be installed.

McCurry said she will continue going by daily to clean up the condom wrappers and drug debris at the park.