Despite Downtown Gridlock, Chicago's Top Cop Defends Response to Revelers at Mexican Independence Day Festivities

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Despite downtown gridlock and withering criticism from alderpersons, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said Monday he believes the caravans of revelers celebrating Mexican Independence Day were for the most part “very respectful” as his department rose to the challenge of controlling the crowds.

“By and large, the celebration [had] thousands of cars — if not tens of thousands of cars — with very little violence, if any,” Brown told reporters. “This was traffic congestion.”

Videos posted to social media showed muscle cars drifting at intersections, people climbing on top of vehicles and setting off fireworks, some throwing objects at overwhelmed police officers. More than 30 people were arrested and 23 vehicles were impounded.

Still, Brown insisted “there were very few people in the crowd that caused us significant challenges from a criminal standpoint. And we took swift enforcement action when that occurred.”

But the two alderpersons who represent downtown wards said the Chicago Police Department was caught flat-footed and should have had more manpower and a better deployment plan.

“I do think they had a plan but it seemed to melt down under real-world conditions,” said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd). ”When you have a dozen police officers and 400 people decide to take over the intersection, they’re going to do it. They were able to do it by out-numbering police resources on the ground.”

Hopkins said Illinois State Police, the Cook County sheriff’s office and suburban departments should have been asked for help sooner.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said no one“who lives or works downtown would consider this weekend a successful one” for Brown. “Headquarters did not deploy police resources necessary to successfully mange such a chaotic, large-scale event,” he said.

Commending police commanders and their officers who worked “long hours on very little sleep,” Reilly stressed that his “frustration is squarely with police headquarters” and the “continued failure” by Brown and his police brass to “adequately assess the number of resources needed to manage these kinds of massive-scale downtown public safety concerns.”

Brown declined to respond to the criticism when asked about it during a news conference.

As crowds took over downtown streets Friday night into early Saturday, at least two shootings were reported around 1 a.m. Saturday at different corners downtown, police said. Both were taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in good condition. About two hours later, a carjacker forced five people out of an SUV in the 1400 block of South Lake Shore Drive, stealing several necklaces before driving away, police said.

No arrests have been made in those incidents, police said.

Later Saturday, Brown and Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced plans to combat the criminal behavior and gridlock. Lightfoot urged revelers to celebrate respectfully, advising against blasting music and honking horns while insisting that the celebrations had largely remained “peaceful and joyous.”

Within hours, the city blocked caravans from the Loop as the festivities continued for the third straight night. The area was closed to everyone but residents and workers between 11 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 a.m. Sunday, leaving some drivers stranded in traffic.

The widespread celebrations — and questionable response — came just three weekends after police officials were apparently caught off-guard when drag racers and drifters took over city streets.

Chief of Patrol Brian McDermott later disclosed at a news conference that a special task force had been established weeks earlier to address an “uptick in the pattern of caravans coming downtown.” The task force is charged with enforcing a new ordinance that allows officers to impound vehicles and fine drivers up to $10,000.

While McDermott and Brown both used tough talk in warning drivers about the consequences, the superintendent struck a much softer tone on Monday. He said city officials are trying to “strike the right balance” in discussing future planning, insisting that community leaders and stakeholders should determine where and how to hold future events.

“You can’t dictate to communities what they can do to celebrate and where they can go. Nor do we want to,” he said. “And we want to be cognizant of the city’s welcoming message. We don’t want to be hypocritical about that.”

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