NEAR WEST SIDE — A raucous and "very dangerous" gang party that brought 1,000 people to a Near West Side park late Sunday was so out of control, Chicago police struggled to shut it down, one alderman said.
Despite calling for police and politicians to address notoriously loud and sometimes violent gang parties for years, neighbors living near Touhy-Herbert Park report that this weekend's massive all-night party that spilled over into the streets was worse than ever.
The footage of the post-Father's Day party, captured in photos and on video just two blocks west of the United Center, shows hundreds of people crowding the streets, drinking, smoking and at times, fighting. As music is blasted over car stereos, women illuminated with floodlights dance on the hood of cars, and the blue lights of police squad cars flash in the background.
One area neighbor called the out-of-control party "Armageddon."
"Sheer madness, chaos, bedlam, insanity!!!!!" she wrote on Facebook. "It was literally like '[a] calling in the National Guard and SWAT team' situation. It was a party riot."
"It looks like a club ... but in the street," another neighbor remarked.
The 25 Police Department squad cars that were eventually sent to the scene weren't enough to break up the party of more than 1,000 people, said veteran 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., who lives in the neighborhood.
The police were outnumbered, he said.
"It's not just an inconvenience, it's very dangerous," Burnett said. "When you have that many people drinking, getting high, anything can happen."
A homeowner who witnessed Sunday's "complete mayhem" agreed.
"You had people who were boozing hardcore and were jacked up on drugs. By the time cops showed up it was just so far gone," said the man, an engineer who moved to the block in April.
A homeowner who has lived in the area for two years said a fight broke out on her front lawn about 1:30 a.m. Monday, and she watched in horror as five people stomped on a woman. She promptly called 911.
While the party itself sparked a few fights caught on camera, six people were shot on the Near West Side Sunday. One of the shootings, injuring a 29-year-old man, occurred at 11:10 p.m. on Adams Street, just two blocks west of the park.
Minutes later, two more men were shot standing in the 2500 block of West Jackson Boulevard, a half-mile away from the park, police said.
And just after a Touhy-Herbert Park Board meeting Tuesday night, a 26-year-old man was killed and two others were injured in a shooting at Adams and Hoyne, steps from Touhy-Herbert Park.
Police could not confirm that the shootings were related to the raucous party, Burnett said.
The Police Department confirmed officers were called to the scene early Monday, but did not respond to questions about the street party or whether there were any arrests. Police claimed only one call was made to 911 at 1:30 a.m. — a claim disputed by neighbors who said they called multiple times.
Crowds gather in the streets near Touhy-Herbert Park on the Near West Side early Monday, blocking traffic. [DNAinfo/Provided]
'Henry Horner reunion'
For years, large groups that often include gang members have flocked to Touhy-Herbert Park in the warm summer months to party. But the annual party that occurs after a Father's Day barbecue attracts a notoriously huge crowd, neighbors say.
Starting in the morning, a Father's Day barbecue, an annual tradition for decades and a reunion of sorts, kicks off in the park. Kids play games, and parents grill as grandmothers watch from their lawn chairs, neighbors said of the family-friendly event. Organizers said a permit was approved for that event this year.
But as the sun sets, families leave, and then the crowds come out to the 3-acre park on Father's Day eve to party.
"It turns into an after-hours spot," said a homeowner who has lived in the area for two years.
And a "gang truce" has attracted more people to the park, Burnett said.
Although it's in Black Disciples territory today, the gangs that hang out in the park and organize the large parties include members from the Gangster Stones, Traveling Vice Lords, Four Corner Hustlers, Gangster Disciples and the Black Disciples, Burnett and police said.
The park is considered neutral gang turf today, Burnett said, 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 on Lake Street.
"It's like a Henry Horner reunion," Burnett said. "Every year we have challenges."
Neighbors 'dread' weekend
Nearly a dozen area homeowners, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said they are fed up with the city's failure to stop the dangerous gang parties that plague the neighborhood.
A neighbor who has lived in the area for six years knows the Father's Day party is so routinely unsafe that he opts to leave the city for the weekend every year.
"My neighbors describe it as dread. We dread the weekend," he said. "And unfortunately Father's Day sets the tone for the entire summer."
A homeowner who has lived in the area for more than a decade said the "constant party atmosphere" with drugs, loud music, gambling and littering destroys the neighbors' quality of life. Police are called to intervene, but nothing changes, neighbors argue.
The neighbor said he personally called 911 and met with about eight officers in his alley about 3:30 a.m. Monday as the mayhem continued.
"They proceeded to tell me every reason they couldn't do their job, from not having enough resources to not visually seeing illegal activity to not wanting to escalate a situation," he said. "There are laws being broken all the time, and they are not being enforced."
After the party went on for hours Sunday, one officer who arrived on the scene did take action to clear the streets, according to a neighbor who has lived in the area for two years.
"One of the cops finally took out his rifle and said, 'C'mon, we've gotta clear out these streets,'" she remembered.
But the group of more than 1,000 people was defiant, the neighbor said.
"They know the cops aren't going to shoot them, especially with all the cellphone videos," she said. "The crowd just stands there knowing that they can't do anything. They just stand there, mocking them."
The six-year neighbor wondered why police and Burnett didn't work to close nearby streets before the party got out of control.
"I get why you can't do anything about 1,000 people, but before there were 1,000 people there, you knew that it was going to be a problem," he said.
Another homeowner who moved to the area from Lincoln Park said he once considered buying a home on the Near West Side close to the booming West Loop as a "heck of a good investment."
Instead, it's a "heck of a regret," he said.
Chicago police officers stand opposite a group near Touhy Herbert Park early Monday. [DNAinfo/Provided]
In the spring, Burnett pitched a plan to convert streets near Touhy-Herbert Park to a residential permit parking zone, aiming to block partiers from parking near the park.
Near West Side police 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.
Burnett wanted signs put up before the end of May, but the parking signs have not been installed yet.
The alderman said he continues to lobby Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Johnson to dedicate more officers to the Near West police district, which he says has been woefully understaffed since the 12th (Near West) and 13th districts were merged in 2012 with 500 officers. As of April, the Near West District had 339 officers.
Burnett said neighbors need to be able to rely on police to quell violence and illegal activity on the Near West Side. The alternative is frightening.
"They're going to force people in the communities to be vigilantes to protect themselves," Burnett said. "We need to be able to rely on the police."
Two schools, Dett Elementary and Chicago Bulls College Prep, border Touhy-Herbert Park. The park has a 9 p.m. curfew, but neighbors say the curfew isn't enforced. [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 who party at all hours of the night in the park, attracting violence and illegal activity.
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.
But today, nearly two years later, neighbors say the curfew isn't enforced, and gang-related problems persist. In spring 2016, eight people were shot in a one-month period in a 16-block radius of the Near West Side that includes Touhy-Herbert Park.