Congestion, chaos from Mexican Independence Day crowds must be addressed, City Council members say

A downtown parade or festival would help Chicago avoid sporadic, ad hoc celebrations citywide that jammed streets and caused all sorts of problems.

SHARE Congestion, chaos from Mexican Independence Day crowds must be addressed, City Council members say
Las calles del centro y de muchos barrios estaban abarrotadas de gente que celebraba el Día de la Independencia de México durante el fin de semana. Aquí, cientos de personas llenan State Street frente al Teatro Chicago el viernes por la noche.

Streets downtown and in many neighborhoods were clogged with people celebrating Mexican Independence Day over the weekend. Here, hundreds pack State Street in front of the Chicago Theatre late Friday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Chicago’s Mexican American community needs a daylong downtown parade or festival to celebrate its ethnic pride and avoid the crowd control problems and traffic chaos of last weekend, several City Council members of Mexican descent said Monday.

Their call for a downtown location to express ethnic pride followed a weekend of Mexican Independence Day celebrations that inconvenienced thousands, endangered others and injured at least two police officers, one of whom nearly lost half an ear.

Overall, said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), there were 86 arrests related in some way to the Mexican Independence Day celebrations. The majority, he added, were gun-related (unlawful use of a weapon), and most of the rest were for disorderly conduct, though one officer was assaulted.

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On the Southwest Side, businesses on a milelong stretch of Pulaski Road were tagged with “vile graffiti,” while motorists were drag racing, “doing doughnuts” and throwing bottles at police, said local Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd).

The Department of Streets and Sanitation sent an armada of trucks to clear trash and remove graffiti Saturday morning, only to do it all over again Sunday, Tabares said.

Downtown streets were closed after the city had vowed as recently as Thursday to keep them open. Caravans of vehicles carrying flag-waving revelers clogged streets in several neighborhoods as well as downtown.

“How do you get through downtown when you have an emergency with all of those cars and everybody walking down the street?” said Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara.

It all prompted Tabares and other Mexican American alderpersons, along with Catanzara, to agree: The city should create one giant downtown opportunity to celebrate Mexican American pride and avoid ad hoc demonstrations that can lead to chaos.

That can be done either by resurrecting the downtown Mexican Independence Day parade that was discontinued roughly a decade ago, or by creating a daylong festival at one site — perhaps, Catanzara suggested, “a giant party at Grant Park.”

That idea was echoed by one River North resident who landed at O’Hare Airport, and after getting stuck for an hour on the Ohio Street ramp, ended up walking the rest of the way home.

“This was chaotic,” said Jonathan Solomon, 37, after a trip that totaled 2 12 hours. “People were just stuck. ... I’m happy people are celebrating, but I think the way it was handled caused a lot of disruption for residents.”

Hundreds of people flood the Loop on Sept. 15, 2023. to celebrate Mexican Independence Day.

Hundreds of people flooded the Loop Friday night to celebrate Mexican Independence Day.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

In other parts of town, it was worse than just disruption, Catanzara said. He said he doesn’t believe he’s ever seen a more serious injury than the officer who “got whacked in the head and had his ear split open.”

He said he’s grateful a 46-year-old man has been charged with a felony count of aggravated battery of a police officer in connection with the attack, but the incident easily could have spiraled out of control.

Tabares, one of the police union’s staunchest City Council supporters, was equally incensed about the mayhem caused by caravans driving down Pulaski from 51st to 71st street.

She applauded police officers from the Chicago Lawn District for “maintaining professionalism” in the face of repeated attacks that included “incendiary devices shot at them and bottles and other objects thrown at them.”

“They were shooting fireworks. I have single-family homes a block away. That’s dangerous for residents who live nearby. There was drag racing. Cars doing doughnuts. Drinking and littering on the public way. … I’m not gonna tolerate that. My ward is not the wild, wild West,” Tabares told the Sun-Times.

“I’m Mexican. ... [But] any organized effort that just destroys public property and attacks our police officers is just wrong, and until more elected officials call it for what it is, we will continue to see more of it.”

In a statement issued late Monday afternoon, the city said the Chicago Police Department and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications monitored the car caravans and crowds.

“All closures were put into effect only when it was deemed necessary due to large car caravans creating gridlocked traffic in the Central Business District. This was done to restore traffic flow and ensure emergency vehicles could pass through the area,” according to the statement.

Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) joined the call for the city to create a better downtown event where Mexican Americans can express their ethnic pride.

“I’m in the epicenter of this on 26th Street. I’m absolutely on board with creative thinking on celebrating a beautiful culture and people. The fact is, you’re gonna have Sept. 16th every year. We need to learn from what happened,” Rodriguez said.

Condemning the violent attacks on police officers, Rodriguez said, “I’m proud of my people — and sad that some people take advantage to conduct mayhem. That’s unacceptable and we need to hold them accountable.”

Revelers filled the Loop for weekend celebrations of Mexican Independence Day.

Revelers filled the Loop for weekend celebrations of Mexican Independence Day.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

As bad as this weekend was, it was an improvement over last year, when people were “ticketed for hanging Mexican flags out their car windows,” said Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th).

“People need a venue to celebrate. Like any other group that celebrates independence or their contributions to the city. … The Mexican community deserves having a parade downtown that is coordinated ahead of time,” Sigcho-Lopez added. “That would prevent a lot of the issues.”

Asked about the weekend celebrations and problems at an unrelated news conference Monday, Mayor Brandon Johnson said that “we celebrate culture” in Chicago — but he also has a responsibility to make sure “that our first responders have access to hospitals and clinics ... whether there’s a celebration going on or not.”

Johnson added: “As far as how we can make it better, there are some ideas that are already rushing in. Trust me, I didn’t realize how many people had my cellphone number.”

Rich Guidice, Johnson’s chief of staff, said he was “hopeful there will be better opportunities” next year for the Mexican community to “express themselves rather than just converging downtown in an unorganized manner, causing the type of disruption” that Chicago has experienced in recent years.

“We’ve got hospitals in the Central Business District. We’ve got health care workers. We’ve got residents,” Guidice said.

“A lot of this kind of culminated during COVID, where the typical outlets of parade and festivals weren’t allowed to be had,” he said. “And converging downtown was just kind of a focal point for them to rendezvous, and that practice hasn’t changed. Getting some cultural activities in areas that are more prominent to their culture and what they’re prideful of is something that we have to work with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special events to help figure that out with the Mexican community.”

Out on the street during last year’s celebration, Guidice ran into people from Wisconsin and Indiana who came to Chicago “just to drive around downtown and be part of that whole atmosphere,” he said.

“I agree there has to be a better way to do that, that keeps it more organized,” he said.

Contributing: Cindy Hernandez, Brett Chase

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