NEAR WEST SIDE — Loud, raucous and sometimes violent gang parties with up to 200 people in a Near West Side park are keeping neighbors awake, infuriating them.
But now the neighborhood's alderman and Near West Side police have an idea to break up the parties — don't let the partiers park.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) says gang members from around city drive to Touhy-Herbert Park — a three-acre spot just three blocks west of the United Center — to party.
Although it's in Black Disciples territory, the park is considered neutral gang turf, in part, because it draws gang members long displaced from the Near West Side by the demolition of the CHA's old Henry Horner Homes along Lake Street.
Burnett Jr. plans to convert streets near Touhy-Herbert Park to a residential permit parking zone.
The new parking measure is part of a series of actions Near West (12th) District police have recommended to stop the gang-related activity and loud parties in and around the park.
And while some longtime neighbors are skeptical that overnight parking restrictions will end the rowdy parties they say occur there, Burnett said the new rules are a "necessary" step ahead of the summer months, when the volume of shootings increases in Chicago.
At a meeting with 50 neighbors last week, one man said the "constant party atmosphere" with drugs, loud music, gambling and littering destroys the neighbors' quality of life. Police are called to intervene, but a longterm solution hasn't been identified, he said.
"Many people in this room are frustrated by the inaction of the police department," said the neighbor, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. "There are laws being broken all the time and they are not being enforced."
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), Chicago Park District and Chicago Police officials address Near West Side neighbors Tuesday. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
New parking rules
How could parking restrictions help kick gangs out of the park? That all depends on where the gang members are from, Burnett said.
While many of the gang members who party in the park grew up in the area or have other historic ties to the neighborhood, they no longer live on the Near West Side, Burnett said. The park is considered a neutral territory where gang members that used to operate in Henry Horner, the storied public housing projects, can meet up. The gang members, and teens who may be affiliated with gangs, drive, and ultimately park, to "meet up" in the area, he said.
The area around Touhy-Herbert Park is mostly Black Disciples territory today, Burnett said, but the gangs that hang out in the park can include members from the Gangster Stones, Traveling Vice Lords, Four Corner Hustlers, Gangster Disciples and the Black Disciples.
"Even though the BDs are mostly over there, they open up that park to everybody," Burnett said. "They don't live here anymore, they just hook up there. So you have 100, 200 people who come and disrupt your neighborhood every night almost who don't live over here."
And while the gangs mostly get along, every once in a while, something happens, sparking beef between the gangs, attracting violence to the neighborhood, Burnett said.
"They make themselves a target, or come and beef with people," the veteran alderman said.
Near West Side cops said the new parking rules could be a valuable tool, as the overnight restrictions would allow police to ticket and tow cars that don't have resident parking stickers. The parking restrictions would help reduce the number of people who party in the park, making police crackdowns more effective, said Police Capt. Phil Kwasinski.
"We can't just arrest our way out of it," Kwasinski said of the ongoing issues. "We have to engage in some sort of environmental design to diminish the scope of the problem."
Isidor “Bo” Ramos, a regional security manager with the Chicago Park District, said a similar strategy was deployed to stop out-of-control parties in Humboldt Park. Within three months, the Humboldt Park revelers "got the message and moved on."
"That gets the message across to people who don't live in the community," he said.
Burnett called the parking strategy "a start." The veteran alderman is also lobbying for area street lights to be fixed, more police to be added to the district and a CPD blue-light camera to be installed at Touhy-Herbert Park, 2106 W. Adams St.
"One police [squad car] can't really handle all of the guys that be out there, to be real about it," Burnett said, referring to the dozens of people who party in the park or nearby streets. "We have to do something to send a message to them: 'This is not your neighborhood anymore, and/or, you need to respect the people who do live in this neighborhood.' "
The new residential parking zone will be implemented south of the park after neighbors lobbied for the new parking restrictions, said Katerina Klopas, treasurer of the Touhy-Herbert Park Advisory Council.
The zone will include permit parking on the south end of Adams Street, Hoyne Avenue from Adams Street to Jackson Boulevard and Leavitt Street from Adams to Jackson, Burnett said. Parking will be prohibited on the north of end of Adams overnight.
The new residential parking zone signs should be installed before the end of May, Burnett said.
New playground equipment was installed at Touhy-Herbert Park this year. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Ongoing 'turf war'
Complaints about gang-related activity at the park aren't new. In August 2015, one neighbor described the ongoing issues as a never-ending "turf war" between the neighbors who care for their block and a group of gangbangers at all hours of the night in the park, attracting violence and illegal activity. At the time, Burnett said police weren't doing enough to address the ongoing gang issues near the park.
Since then, neighbors worked to clean up the park and successfully lobbied for improvements, including the installation of new playground equipment and adding a 9 p.m. curfew in the park, earlier than the previous 11 p.m. curfew. Two schools — Dett Elementary and Chicago Bulls College Prep — border the park.
The curfew "gives police a little more leverage to tell guys they gotta go," Burnett said. "They still get on the sidewalk, but they can keep them out of the park."
But today, nearly two years later, neighbors say the gang-related problems persist.
In spring 2016, eight people were shot in a one-month period in a 16-block radius on the Near West Side that includes Touhy-Herbert Park. A 12-year-old boy standing inside Golden Fish & Chicken was among the victims.
And last week, at 12:24 p.m. April 17, two people were shot in the 300 block of South Leavitt Street, putting at least one nearby school on temporarily lockdown. Two schools — Dett Elementary and Chicago Bulls College Prep — border the park.
Another neighbor who has lived near the park for nearly a decade said she doesn't think police would let the gang activity fly in Skinner Park, located 3/4-mile east of Touhy-Herbert Park in the wealthy West Loop.
"We have this beautiful park. I have two young children. I can't even go to the park," she said this week. "We get in the car, and go down to Skinner."
The Touhy-Herbert Park Advisory Council continues to push for other park improvements, and is working on a plan that would see a new fieldhouse built at the site. The council will next meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday.