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'La Casita' Activists Acquitted of Trespassing

By Alex Parker | December 6, 2013 4:42pm
 Pilsen community members say they were not notified of the demolition of a beloved community center.
Whittier Elementary field house demolished
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CHICAGO — Nine activists charged with trespassing as they tried to stop the demolition of a Pilsen community gathering place in August were found not guilty Friday.

The Sun-Times reports the nine activists arrested as they linked arms attempting to protect the Whittier Elementary fieldhouse were acquitted of charges that they trespassed on state-supported land. Their lawyers successfully argued the prosecution did not prove the fieldhouse, known as "La Casita" sat on state-supported land.

La Casita became a symbol of community resistance after parents occupied it for 43 days in 2010 to prevent its demolition. Community members took control of La Casita, turning it into a library and hub for education and after-school programs for Pilsen residents.

On the evening of Aug. 16, crews suddenly appeared at the fieldhouse at 1900 W. 23rd St. to demolish it, ushering community members out of the building without any warning. After an all-night demonstration in front of the fieldhouse, activists linked arms in front of the building before being carried away by police.

The building was demolished as the nine activists were arrested and charged with trespassing. Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the demolition of the building, which the city said was unsafe, "exactly the right thing to do."

“This is an important victory for La Casita’s defenders,” said activist Lisa Angonese, a former Whittier parent. “We’re currently trying to find an alternative space for La Casita, and we’re still demanding that more than half a million dollars in TIF funds that the CPS and Alderman Solis promised to us – but never delivered – go to fund our effort.”

Former CPS CEO Ron Huberman agreed to terms with Whittier parents in 2010, including that the building would not be demolished. In 2011, his successor, Jean-Claude Brizard, reaffirmed that commitment in a letter, and said funds from Tax Increment Financing and the state would be put towards renovating the building, which would be leased to the community for $1 a year.

But a contract to cement the agreement was never signed, and necessary repairs were never made.

A turf field, playground and two basketball courts would be built over the former field house, CPS said.