How police respond to -- and sometimes clash with -- crowds of teens in downtown Chicago
April 18-- Apr. 18--Social media, a warm night and spring break for Chicago Public Schools all combined to draw hundreds of teenagers downtown for the evening Wednesday.
Some just spent time with friends like thousands of others who enjoy the city in summer. Others got into fights and tense confrontations with police.
It's a perennial issue in Chicago as summer comes: Teens connect with hundreds of others within seconds online and congregate in the Loop and along the Magnificent Mile, sometimes resulting in chaotic encounters with officers trying to contain the crowds.
Officers in the downtown and Near North Side districts over the years have used a variety of tactics, including directing the teenagers onto trains and buses that carry them out of the area.
But such strategies have raised concerns about the rights of teenagers who aren't causing problems, especially when most sent away from downtown are black and from the South and West sides.
About 500 teenagers gathered downtown early Wednesday evening. Police were ready for them because of social media posts, strategically staging patrols and calling for transport vans.
The teenagers spread out across Millennium Park and near the Lake and Grand Red Line stops, passing packed restaurant patios.
Some teens got in fights among themselves. In one case, police and teenagers got into a tense confrontation near a Potbelly sandwich shop.
Officers on bicycles surrounded the teenagers. In some cases, officers directed the teenagers to public transportation.
In the end, 31 people were arrested, Chicago police said in a statement to the Tribune. They are facing charges ranging from disorderly mob action to resisting arrest, battery and CTA violations. No injuries were reported.
"People who were completely disobeying the law, they had to be arrested," Chief of Patrol Fred Waller told reporters Wednesday night.
What CPD is doing
Chicago police officials say they first employ a strategy of tolerance, talking to the teenagers and moving the crowds toward public transportation, rather than making mass arrests.
Wednesday night, officers on bicycles lined up on State Street near the Chicago Theatre and spread out throughout Millennium Park. Waller said officers made arrests when teenagers were fighting or trespassing.
"They're so tolerant of these kids who are just so disrespectful, cursing at them, saying the things that they say," Waller said of the officers.
Last year, in one of the largest clashes between groups of teens and police, officers tried to steer more than 100 teenagers onto Red Line trains that ran express to the South Side on Memorial Day weekend. Officers shut down parks and beaches early amid concerns about fights and vandalism. In one case, a 15-year-old boy was beat up by a group of about eight or 10 teenagers after teens were chased from 31st Street Beach.
"We encourage all residents and visitors to enjoy our city through the spring and summer months," the Police Department said in a statement Thursday. "However, criminal and violent acts will not be tolerated in any of our neighborhoods."
Civil rights issues
The shuttling of teenagers onto express trains out of downtown last year brought scrutiny from civil rights groups. Edwin Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, called it "troubling."
Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who works on civil rights and police accountability issues, told the Tribune at the time that the strategy raised red flags because it appeared to target black teenagers.
"(Police should not) pick on or single out groups on the basis of race for selective treatment or discriminatory treatment. That's a problem," he said.
But Yohnka said the ACLU could not yet weigh in on the strategies employed Wednesday night before talking with more people involved and looking at available videos.