DOWNTOWN – Metal detectors and security checkpoints greeted visitors at Millennium Park as the city’s new curfew for minors went into effect Thursday night.
It’s not the first time security checkpoints have been used at Downtown parks, but it’s typically for large events — not for every day life. While the checkpoints received backlash from Chicagoans online, most visitors in the park said they didn’t mind the extra security measures.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Millennium Park ban outlaws minors who are not accompanied by an adult from going to the park after 6 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. She made the move after 16-year-old Seandell Holliday was killed near The Bean Saturday that saw dozens of others arrested after hundreds of Black youth gathered Downtown. Lightfoot has also pushed to roll back the weekend curfew to 10 p.m. citywide.
In announcing the Millennium Park policy, Lightfoot said it would be “strictly enforced and violations will be dealt with swiftly.” But the park, a hotspot for tourists, was calm Thursday night as visitors filed through security checkpoints.
Several tourists told Block Club the extra security measures made them feel safe after Saturday night’s shooting. Just hours after the security went into effect at Millennium Park, a mass shooting left two dead and eight wounded less than a mile north of the park on the Near North Side.
“It’s good because … anything can happen,” said Paola Encolna, who was visiting from Florida. She said someone told her about The Bean shooting while passing through one of the checkpoints.
In the 1st Police District, which includes Millennium Park, there were 10 reported shootings by this date in 2021.There have been 20 so far this year, according to police data.
Gregory Carthema, a tourist from New York, said he understood the need for the security measures but wondered if it’s a viable longterm solution to city’s violence.
“It’s nice to see that there is such a quick response,” Carthema said. “Whether it’s good for a permanent solution for people coming into the city … I don’t know.”
Several Chicagoans said they felt indifferent about the checkpoints.
“I didn’t expect them, but I also didn’t mind them,” said Logan Square resident Sara Arnold. “It took only one second to get through and the people were really kind and so it didn’t bother me.”
Those who entered after 6 p.m. were subjected the park’s new youth escort policy. Published on the city’s website Thursday, the policy requires minors entering the park after curfew to be accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old. Adults are allowed to accompany up to four minors.
The new policy meant Luke Cheng, a Streeterville resident, and his three friends were ID’d by park security before they could enter. Once security saw that one person in the group was 21, they were allowed to pass through.
“I was kind of confused why they were there, but then they explained why and it made sense,” Chicago native Jueling Cheng said.
While park visitors were unfazed by the change, many on Twitter called the additional security measures unnecessary and embarrassing.
“Definitely not trying to go downtown for fun. Millennium Park now with checkpoints, more security. It makes it all feel less accessible,” said resident Lynda Lopez wrote on Twitter.
One user wrote: “What an utter embarrassment and shame for our city.”
“This is not what a public park in a world class city looks like,” another person wrote.
The curfew crackdown exempts teens coming home from music fests like Lollapalooza, which attracts wealthy white teens from the suburbs and tourists. And young Chicagoans have said discouraging teens from the places they feel safe Downtown will make the city less accessible to Black and Brown youth.
Lightfoot plans to introduce a proposed ordinance to amend the city’s curfew Friday. In response, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) released a letter Thursday calling on his fellow City Council members to oppose Lightfoot’s curfew move.
“The evidence is clear that juvenile curfews are counterproductive for public safety,” Ramirez-Rosa wrote.
In his letter, Ramirez-Rosa cited research that shows curfews don’t have an impact on crime. A 2016 study by the Campbell Collaboration argued curfews are “unlikely to be a meaningful solution to juvenile crime.” When the curfew was pushed up an hour to 11 p.m. in Washington, D.C., gun violence increased, according to a 2015 study.
The ACLU of Illinois has also challenged Lightfoot’s plan, calling for the legal justification in a letter to the mayor’s office Tuesday. The letter notes concerns about racial bias in addressing youth Downtown, citing three in four curfew arrests were Black Chicagoans during the George Floyd protests of 2020.
“It could turn into an overboard policy that encourages unconstitutional stops and searches of young people and results in racially-biased policing,” said Alexandra Block, senior supervising attorney with the ACLU of Illinois.
Lightfoot has declined to say what exact consequences teens will face if they defy the ban or curfew. In a press conference Monday, she said city officials would “exhaust all other options before they take law enforcement actions.”
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