Loop security is expected to tighten over weekend after violent teen gathering

Last week, two people were shot, a couple beaten and police slow to respond. This week, fences are up at Millennium Park, entry points are limited and a curfew will be enforced, city officials said.

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Fences were up this week at Millennium Park to slow entry into the popular tourist destination. A curfew imposed last year bars teens under 18 from the park after 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday without an adult over the age of 21.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Residents and visitors to Chicago’s Loop this weekend should expect heightened security after fights broke out, cars were damaged and at least two boys shot when large crowds of teenagers gathered last Saturday night.

For years Chicago teens have used social media to meet up downtown in large crowds. On Saturday, the crowds culminated around 9 p.m., and several videos posted online showed cars being broken into and set on fire. The chaos made national headlines and sparked debate about who was to blame for the violence. An alderman criticized the Chicago Police Department, some observers pointed fingers at parents, and others focused on a lack of youth programs.

Metal fences and yellow barricades now line the perimeter of Millennium Park to limit entry points into the popular tourist destination.

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A sign at Millennium Park on Thursday alerts visitors to a curfew in place. The threat of rainstorms may have kept teens away from the park.

Dave Newbart/Sun-Times

On Thursday evening, few police officers could be seen around Millennium Park as a storm moved across the city. Signs outside the park indicated that those under 18 wouldn’t be allowed past checkpoints without an adult. Guards said few teens had attempted to get in, but said they expected more this weekend.

The controversial special curfew, which first went into effect last year, bans teens under the age of 18 from being in the park after 6 p.m. from Thursday through Sunday without an adult who is at least 21 years old. A daily curfew of 10 p.m. remains in effect citywide.

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Metal barricades direct the flow of foot traffic through Millennium Park. The police response to last week’s violence downtown is now being investigated.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A group of high school seniors from nearby Muchin College Prep patiently filed through the designated entryways Wednesday afternoon to take senior class photos. Amaya, who asked that her last name not be used because she said she knew teens who made their way downtown last Saturday, said she avoids internet-promoted gatherings.

“I’m not a part of that group; I don’t do all that,” she said. “I come downtown for school and on the weekend sometimes, but it’s always drama with these ‘linkups,’ so I don’t come down here when I hear they’re coming.”

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The police response Saturday was almost immediately under scrutiny. The department is now investigating a claim that police drove past a couple being attacked in the 100 block of North Wabash Avenue.

And Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward includes parts of downtown, told the Chicago Sun-Times there was a “total breakdown in command and control” at the Chicago Police Department, including a disagreement with CTA leaders about suspending mass transit service in the area.

Public safety experts and youth advocates told WBEZ about a range of possible solutions to deter chaos by young people downtown, including paid peacekeepers, summer jobs, improved transportation and more police. Last year, influential experts on gun violence, youth culture and recreation said violent outbursts among young people downtown was an opportunity for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration to provide more programs and activities for teens.

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