The intent, said organizers, was simply to raise awareness about crime in Lakeview.
But what many expected would be a simple community protest of violence in Boystown, quickly became a stand-off that reached to the heart of a decades-old dispute over who has a claim over Chicago's "gayborhood." The night also ended with the arrest of two people, including a well-known LGBT activist.
More than 50 people gathered in the 7-Eleven parking lot at Halsted and Roscoe for a neighborhood "positive loitering" walk, Saturday, July 2.
The walk, scheduled as a response to what some say is an increase in crime in the neighborhood, was advertised on the new "Take Back Boystown" Facebook page. ( www.facebook.com/TakeBackBoystown ) Its stated intent was to raise awareness about safety and noise problems in Lakeview. Recent events, including a June 18 stabbing outside the 7-Eleven as well as a number of fights that broke out over Pride weekend have worried many residents in recent weeks.
Before the walk, participants gathered at the south end of the parking lot around 11:30 p.m. But at the north end of the lot, another group of about 30 people gathered in protest of the first.
As walk organizers readied to divide into groups, the 30 protesters confronted the event with megaphones, accusing attendees of policing queer youth of color out of the neighborhood.
The two groups stood for several minutes at opposing ends of the parking lot, while onlookers started to gather, apparently confused by the stalemate.
The "Take Back Boystown" page started June 28. After advertising the positive loitering walk, it has become more controversial. That is because some its members posted messages blaming Black youth who access LGBT social services in Lakeview for crime and violence.
"The offenders are Black gang members," posted one man. "That's a fact! These trannys are bringing their homey G boyfriends into the neighborhood courtesy of The Center on Halsted. You can tell who they are by the way they act."
Several other members denounced what they said were racist comments and said that the issue was not about race but rather safety.
Still, protesters at the positive loitering event said they worried the group was advocating for racial profiling in the neighborhood. Many of those protesters came representing LGBT youth organization Gender JUST, a group largely comprised of queer youth of color, who have been organizing around the issue for several months.
The positive loitering contingent, which gathered around Kathleen Boehmer, 23rd police district commander, tried to make announcements to the group, but chants from protesters drowned them out.
"We're gonna beat back police attack," protesters yelled.
One man turned around and yelled "get the fuck out of my neighborhood" at the protesters.
With Saturday parties in full-swing at neighborhood clubs, the Lakeview streets were packed with partygoers. Many people stopped to watch the confrontation, which became tense when protesters moved closer to the official event.
The positive loiterers largely did not respond to protesters, but rather decided to move away and start their walk. According to Rob Sall, an organizer of the walk, his group sent between five to six groups of people around the neighborhood.
Protesters, however, followed the walkers with megaphones. Sall said the protest "derailed" the walkers from their goal.
"That clearly goes against everything we do on our walk because we move about the neighborhood quietly, peacefully," said Sall, adding that Gender JUST drew unwanted attention to them.
Gender JUST also drew attention to themselves. Sam Finkelstein, a well-known activist with the group, was arrested around 12:45 a.m. According to Finkelstein, one of the walkers told police he was pressing charges against Finkelstein for yelling in the neighborhood and asked that he be arrested. Windy City Times could not confirm that a walker requested he be arrested.
A police spokesperson did confirm that Finkelstein was arrested for "disorderly conduct." He was released without charges hours later.
"It's a perfect example of the problem with this," Finkelstein said. "They want to silence any debate."
Finkelstein said many youth are forced to access services in Lakeview due to a dearth of LGBT services elsewhere in the city, only to be chased out by business owners and police.
Janel Bailey, another Gender JUST member, said that she was protesting the walk because she felt that queer youth were being unfairly scapegoated.
"We are the queer youth of color and allies and sex workers," she said. "We're also concerned with safety and want to be included in this conversation and not necessarily made targets."
While Finkelstein was being arrested, a fight unrelated to the loitering event was taking place at Halsted and Aldine. According to witnesses, a young man had been badly injured in an altercation with several people and had been bludgeoned with either a can of mace or a metal rod. He was arrested but quickly released.
The young man eventually ended up in the 7-Eleven parking lot, where the stand-off between protesters and walkers continued and an ambulance was called by protesters. Witnesses say the man refused medical care.
Bailey, who witnessed the fight, alleged that the young man had seriously been outnumbered and was ignored by police and the positive loitering contingent.
But Sall said that the presence of Gender JUST had distracted his group from their intended purpose to interrupt such fights.
"Had they not derailed what we were doing, [ the fight ] probably potentially could have been avoided," Sall said.
While Sall conceded that the "Take Back Boystown" page "is extremely racially charged," he said that racist comments on the page did not reflect those who organized or attended the walk. He said those at the event were not looking to push anyone out of the neighborhood or racially profile youth.
"We don't care if they're here or not," Sall said. "This is an entertainment district. We expect that. But we do ask that they respect the neighborhood."
Finkelstein maintained that the issue had little to do with safety and everything to do what he feels has been an ongoing class dispute between young poor people and wealthier Lakeview residents.
"Our people own this issue," Finkelstein said. "This is what we do every day. Every time they do this, we're going to be here."
As one confused onlooker watched the night's events unfold, he commented that he wanted to simply push the two groups together. "But I guess I know that's not possible," he said. "It's probably more complicated than that."
Concerned Lakeview residents are planning to discuss recent crimes and possible response at the next CAPS meeting on Wednesday, July 6 at 7 p.m. The meeting has been moved to the auditorium at Inter-American Elementary School, 851
W. Waveland Ave. For more information go to http://www.44thward.org/Safety%20Pages/About_CAPS.html.