Wicker Park Advisory Council takes action to end 10-year battle over drug dealers and drunks


Dusted with snow, uninhabited, this chess table looks innocuous, but when warmer weather comes so do the drug dealers and drunks

After repeated efforts over 10 years to rid the Park of the drug dealing and drinking at Damen Ave. and Schiller St., the Wicker Park Advisory Council voted to have four chess tables removed as soon as possible. These tables have become the center for illegal activities.

The decision came because of the experiences of area residents, those who come into the Park from outside the neighborhood as well as Council members.

One parent says, "I avoid that entrance of the park because I see the fights, drug sales, open drinking of alcohol. I experience lewd comments made towards me from the patrons at those tables. I do not want my children around that."

A long time resident from around the Park says, "It is like running the gauntlet to get into the Park. At all hours of the day and evening, there is lewd, crude language and often traffic jams. 'Customers' double park, causing traffic to back up as they go to make their drug buy.

"The Park's wrought iron fence has been vandalized. They bent the rails to mark the place to buy. Party coolers are used to cool their alcohol and store their drug stashes, though sometimes they use the trash bins for the drugs. They have gotten more blatant over the last few years. The police come and get them to dump the liquor but when the police leave, they go across the street and buy more."

"We have had enough, get rid of those tables," says a 35-year resident who is on the Local School Council at Pritzker. The school is on the diagonal corner from the Park.

"Those tables appeared one day, no one asked for them. From the beginning, they harbored bad behavior that has only gotten worse," said a Park neighbor.

A 36-year resident who volunteers many hours in the Park weekly says, "The tables are no longer used for the original purpose and I am tired of picking up the trash around them."

During the Council's discussion, one member said, "I understand why people want to remove the tables, but that may only be a temporary fix. They will go elsewhere in the Park and then we will be removing other things."

Proco "Joe" Moreno, 1st Ward Alderman who lives in the neighborhood, believes that there should be a discussion about alternatives for the tables "so that our park continues to be a place of gathering and play for ALL, ALL  residents of the 1st Ward and the City. " He hopes that the Park District can help in removing "the nefarious elements from the area."

"If Alderman Moreno gets any blow-back from those who used the tables for said illegal behavior, I would remind them that their behavior is what doomed their little party zone under the trees," said another community member.

With these three factors in place:

  • recent changes in the handling of 911 calls, due to lack of police resources
  • the fact that no one will be reviewing the tapes from the camera that the Alderman funded because the Chicago Police Department has high demands and not enough resources
  • reductions in Park staffing locally and system-wide, due to budget cuts

it would appear that another discussion, after 10 years of discussions and other abatement attempts, would produce no different outcome, no solution.

When actions to eliminate the homeless from sleeping on the benches in the Polish Triangle at Division St., Ashland and Milwaukee Avenues did not work, Moreno had the benches removed.

Some residents feel that the problem of drug dealers and drunks in Wicker Park point to the same type of problem resolving as used for the Triangle's benches -- removal.

Photo courtesy of Doug Wood



Wicker Park and the amenities

Just thought everyone might be interested in knowing what the Park was like in the past. I lived on the park- on Schiller from 1978 to 1991. At that time I was never able to enjoy the park. If I had to go the The Busy Bee- I drove! If I had to go to Milwaukee Av-the hardware store- I chose my timing carefully to walk briskly through the center of the park -late morning worked best. When I took the el I would walk on the opposite side of the street from the park to get to the train station. In summer, there would be men sleeping on benches or in the grass. Usually, they would relieve themselves and leave their private parts exposed. Often, my gangway was used as a public toilet. Needless to say, when friends or relatives came, they were in for a shock of where I lived and why I decided to live there. I picked bullets out of my walls from shootings and was broken into so many times, despite having a security system, that when I left I had hardly anything of value. Jewelry, electronics, tools, cash,,anything that was "fence-able" was taken. My tenants too had the same experiences and usually left after being broken into. I found it hard to get tenants even though the apartments were completely rehabbed. The idea of living "on the park" sounded wonderful. At the time that I was living in WP the neighborhood was full of people who wanted to make a change- turn around an area that was forgotten by public services and society in general. A cab driver would not even take me to my door- he'd drop me a block away saying he would not drive down my street. The stories are truly endless as far as the negatives of living in "the hood". I gave as much as I could to make it a better place. I moved out fortunately, able to say I was never physically harmed. No I did not "make a killing in real estate" when I sold. I gained a lot of experience on many levels, learned a lot, and made a lot of strong friendships. That was my payback. It saddens me to see that little has changed to make the park a safe place for everyone.

No Emmett, criminals do not

No Emmett, criminals do not "simply vanish." They go somewhere else. Taking out the chairs and table is a cop-out, a PR-stunt that at best will move the problem elsewhere. As long as people respond to the problem selfishly, without addressing drug use systemically as a symptom of a dysfunctional society, nothing will change. There are places in the world (and times in America's past) which have far fewer resources to address these problems, and yet fewer problems.

we the neighbors are not here

we the neighbors are not here to be the social workers for the poor souls in the park. we just want the drug dealing at those tables to stop. will you go and kindly ask them to please stop? will they listen to you?

This is hypocrisy, a double

This is hypocrisy, a double standard. I'm in the park regularly--walking, riding, reading--in good weather for 25+ years & have never had a problem with these guys & gals. Where will these people go? You get rid of those chess tables, & they will just gather at park picnic tables & benches. Once again, I note the symbolism of the Wicker statue, using his broom to sweep all the unwanted dirt & undesirables away. Perfect. Why don't we focus on Rahm-ney's (& Obama's) jobs, housing, & substance abuse rehab policies? And, you know, what would happen to decent, law-abiding citizens like Calvin? I used to have to "run the gauntlet" of menacing--at least they looked menacing--dogs until they were controlled & segregated. The park seems to treat people's dogs better than its human denizens. In summer, I see non-homeless residents & visitors drinking beer & other stuff in the park all the time. Yes--they may not loiter all the time, but still. Where's the crackdown on THOSE PEOPLE? Following the park's logic here, then, we should remove ALL places to sit in the park. Get rid of those benches around the fountain (where the "undesirables" have started to gather now anyway). Tear up the grass while you're at it. Make it hard for anyone to enjoy the park at the expense of tolerating a few. But this, after all, is the American way: Not in my backpark!

Jeff is a fool, lost in his

Jeff is a fool, lost in his own hubris. Willing to rip out grass and benches just to protect and placate these drug dealers. Did Jeff ever notice Calvin doesn't sit at the chess tables? Calvin doesn't even talk to those nefarious actors. Removing the tables is the only way to rid the park of the illegal behavior, 99% of the neighbors I've talked to AGREE.

Ald Moreno protects the drug

Ald Moreno protects the drug dealers and thugs at these tables without remorse. The park should be a gathering place for all LAW ABIDING people.

Ald. Moreno has a good point

"so that our park continues to be a place of gathering and play for ALL, ALL residents of the 1st Ward and the City. "

Francine and others, they

Francine and others, they will come back and sit on milk crates and folding chairs- for a while. Then the rebelliousness will wear off and most if not all of those criminals will simply vanish. Give it a few months...

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