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‘Army of Moms’ rips police surge, hosts ‘unsanctioned’ block party

Tamar Manasseh of Mothers Against Senseless Killings, right, speaks with police officers during an 'unsanctioned block party' as Jermaine Kelly looks on Sunday. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

After a spike in gun violence earlier this month, police sent 600 additional police officers to the South and West Sides — and ordered a crackdown on “unsanctioned” outdoor parties that officials said had led to some of the violence.

But while some aldermen and residents asked the city to keep the police in their neighborhoods longterm, at least one well-known anti-violence group had a different response: no thanks.

Not only did Tamar Manasseh, founder of Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings, sound an alarm over the extra police officers from around the city flooding Englewood, she also feared the crackdown on street parties directly threatened the frequent gatherings her group hosts for residents. Those gatherings by her group — which has been dubbed the “Army of Moms” — have gotten national attention and have been credited with helping reduce violence in the area.

“When you put cops into areas they aren’t familiar with, where it’s not their regular beat, they don’t know the rhythm of the neighborhood, they don’t know the people, they don’t know the players, they don’t know anything,” Manasseh said.

Juan Castillo and Johnathan Ingram work the grill at the Mothers Against Senseless Killings block party in Chicago Sunday August 26, 2018. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times
Juan Castillo and Johnathan Ingram work the grill at the Mothers Against Senseless Killings block party in Chicago Sunday August 26, 2018. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

On Sunday, her group hosted a block party on Stewart Avenue between 75th and 76th Streets featuring games, music, horse rides, food and free school supplies.

But the unpermitted party also was a direct challenge to the new police strategies. While about 100 people attended, Manasseh and a dozen other volunteers sported t-shirts that read “Unsanctioned Street Gatherer.”

“Look around — it’s kids and families playing, eating, hanging around. What’s so wrong with that?” Manasseh said.

Last week, Manasseh wrote an op-ed in The New York Times raising her concerns. Ignorance over a neighborhood’s comings and goings translates into more high-tense situations between police and residents, she said. She said she’s witnessed officers harassing people who are usually ignored by beat cops in the last couple of weeks, causing many in Englewood to distrust police.

“You can’t put new cops in an old neighborhood with old problems. It just doesn’t work,” she said.

As she has before, she called for more equitable public school funding, better food security for residents, comprehensive jobs programs and access to affordable housing.

Wesley Snow, 38, an Englewood resident since 1985, was also concerned about the new officers patrolling the neighborhood. He wishes the department had a better relationship with the community.

“Just talk to us, man. Don’t judge us if you don’t know what’s going on,” he said.

Snow, who attended Sunday’s event, added: “We’re just trying to relax like everyone else. If this is my neighborhood, why can’t I feel comfortable hanging out with my own guys, in my own hood? We shouldn’t have to leave the neighborhood for us to do that.”

Police officers visited the block party at least twice Sunday, and rumors spread that they would shut it down. But the officers left without taking action as of early Sunday evening.

Manasseh described her group’s overall relationship with police as “contentious” and “lacking” — although she did commend police officials for recently hosting a gathering to improve relations with the community.

Chicago Police did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In his announcement of the party crackdown on Aug. 9, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said while properly permitted parties were fine, the stricter rules for unsanctioned parties were necessary to lessen the number of residents caught in crossfire at parties attended by gang members.

“Our analysis shows us what drove last weekend’s violence were shootings tied to large unsanctioned street parties,” Johnson said.

The conflict between the groups comes, though, as violence in Englewood has hit historic lows. Last year, the number of shootings was the lowest since police started keeping records. But 14 people have been killed in the neighborhood since May, including 15-year-old Jazmyne Jeter, who was shot in the chest on her way to catch a bus, and violence is still on people’s minds.

That included Tamir Reese, who is entering 7th grade at Westscott Elementary School. She said she feels safer knowing more police are on the ground in Englewood, but said more needed to be done. “I’m happy more police are out here. We need them. But they could do better.”

More than 100 people attend the block party Sunday. Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times
More than 100 people attend the block party Sunday. Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times