I called 911.
It was rush hour on Tuesday on Lake Shore Drive.
I’d just rounded the curve, northbound, by Oak Street Beach and noticed a heavy presence of Chicago Police officers on bikes and in cars. And, if I’m not mistaken, on ATVs.
The beach was throbbing with people on this warm summer day.
Then, all of a sudden, I saw a pack of young people racing into traffic.
Against the backdrop of flashing CPD blue lights by the North Avenue Beach house, I’d estimate 20 to 30 young men and women were running through the North Avenue/La Salle exit.
Remember, this was rush hour.
Traffic was slower than normal but moving. Motorists on the Drive are not prepared for a wilding of young people weaving on foot in between their vehicles.
But there they were. Running across the northbound lanes. Jumping the barrier. Zigzagging in front of cars in the southbound lanes. And sprinting into the park.
My first instinct was to call the cops. The second was to call my news desk. And that’s what I did and in that order. Who wants to see a kid killed in traffic? Or a motorist terrorized by a kid running through traffic?
The 911 officer who answered asked for a specific description of the people I saw. Were they white, Hispanic or African American?
They were African American, I told her.
I asked myself, does race matter in this?
As a description, I think it does.
However, downtown and out on the beach, police are dealing with all kinds of racial and ethnic descriptions. Drunk white suburban kids. Black kids. And Hispanic youth. All who make their way to Oak Street and North Avenue, and often in large groups.
The description matters less than the problem of “wildings” or “flash mobs” creating a real problem that the city works hard to combat.
This particular incident was in the 18th Police District of the 43rd Ward. The alderman is Michele Smith, who makes it a practice to walk along the beach and see for herself what’s going on.
She checked and told me there were no criminal incidents connected to what I’d witnessed. The crowd had apparently quickly dispersed. And yet, I wondered, what can a city do to effectively anticipate and stop disruptions like this? Especially when they escalate beyond mere disruptions?
This month Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, acknowledging the wildings, said CPD has a strategy to deal with them akin to how it dealt with NATO protesters not long ago. The strategy is to “escort” these mobs — tail them — and attempt to ensure they cause no harm. And arrest them if they do.
CPD has an almost impossible job.
They need everybody’s eyes and ears.
Downtown and in the neighborhoods.
And rejoice if it turns out to be nothing serious at all.