Police take action after Lightfoot threatens to shut down Chicago’s parks and entire lakeside

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday made an extraordinary threat – to shut down Chicago’s parks, Millennium Park, downtown Riverwalk, and the entire lakefront – if residents and visitors continue to thumb their noses at statewide stay-at-home order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Lightfoot called on Chicago police to break up large gatherings and threatened to use what she called “any levers at my disposal” to force compliance.

Wednesday afternoon and evening the police appeared to be doing just that. Photos have surfaced on social media showing barricades along parts of the north side of the Lakefront Trail. The Patch website posted a video showing officers parking a police SUV across the trail near North Avenue and telling people it had been closed.

City officials would not say whether the closures were carried out as part of a coordinated effort – or whether the closures would remain in effect on Thursday. Attempts to clarify the presence of barricades and SUVs blocking the paths on Wednesday have not resulted in a response.

Lightfoot was moved by the large gatherings she saw along the lake, the crowds at playgrounds and basketball courts, and the warm weather drawing crazy Chicagoans outside, even though they are supposed to stay at home.

Police gather along an empty lakeside path between the beaches of North Avenue and Oak Street on Wednesday.
Jason Baumann / Media Without Box

“Far too many people come together like it’s just another day. It’s not just another day. And no day will be just another day until we’re on the other side of this. virus, which is weeks away, “the mayor said.” I understand people are frustrated with being stuck in their homes and anxious to get out and move around. And you can do it. But you have to do it. in a smart way, which is to maintain a social distance and not to congregate in other places with a lot of other people. ”

Lightfoot said she not only ordered the Chicago police to shut down large gatherings, but was also ready to go even further.

“If we have to… we will be forced to close parks and the entire lake shore,” the mayor said.

She added, “It’s the last thing any of us want and it’s the last thing I want to do as mayor. But make no mistake: if people don’t take it seriously, which is what they need to do, I won’t hesitate to pull any levers at my disposal to force respect if necessary. But let’s not get to that point. We don’t need it. Stay at home. Only go out for the essentials. If you want to exercise, do it so that you don’t congregate with other people.

But later Wednesday, shortly before 6 p.m., police began evacuating people from the beaches and the Lakefront Trail, starting at Oak Street and heading north.

Chicago police cleared portions of the Lakefront Trail on Wednesday night after some residents refused to heed the mayor's warning about <a class=social distancing.” data-upload-width=”4000″ src=”https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/XHR_7Soryzadp9kdSftsC2IlMts=/0x0:4000×2667/1200×0/filters:focal(0x0:4000×2667):no_upscale()/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/19833971/Lakefornt_Trail_Close_photo_by_Won_J_Park_1.jpg”/>

Chicago police cleared portions of the Lakefront Trail on Wednesday night after some residents refused to heed the mayor’s warning about social distancing.
Won J. Park / For the Sun-Times

Acting Police Superintendent Charlie Beck said the “educational phase” of the governor’s stay-at-home order is complete. The warning and compliance phase has started.

This means that you will receive a warning, followed by citations for misdemeanors punishable by a fine of $ 500 and “if you continue to violate you will be subject to physical arrest”.

He said he held a meeting with his “chiefs and deputy chiefs” on Wednesday to discuss the situation and told them “if people ignore the warning from our police department not to assemble. , then we’re going to start issuing quotes – not because we want to, but because we have to.

When the governor’s stay-at-home order was issued on Friday, Lightfoot said all Chicago Park District athletic fields and 580 playgrounds would be closed to the public, but park green spaces would remain open.

Some people have apparently taken this as a license to do what they have always done: go to the lakeside for a long run or a bike ride when the sun comes up and the temperature rises, as it did. Wednesday. Or gather at a local park for a game of basketball or football.

Hundreds of people took advantage of the warm weather on the Lakefront Trail near Oak Street Beach on Wednesday afternoon, but those crowds caused a complete shutdown Thursday.

Despite a stay-at-home order from Governor JB Pritzker during the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of people could be seen enjoying the warm weather on the Lakefront Trail near Oak Street Beach on Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Lightfoot said she knew it was true because she had seen it with her own eyes shortly before Wednesday’s press conference; it forced her to make a threat she never meant to make.

“I was driving along Lake Shore Drive last night. I watched the cameras along the lake today. And what we see are packs of people along the shores of the lake.

The mayor acknowledged that the lakefront attracts Chicagoans, especially those locked in their homes with young children. It is one of the “greatest assets” of the city, she said.

“But when we have masses of people out there like I just saw… that’s a problem. We know what happens when we don’t take social distance. This disease rate is skyrocketing. The pressure on hospitals is enormous and the death rate is starting to rise.

For now at least, Park District Supt. Mike Kelly said the “green spaces” in the parks will remain open.

But, he said, “If you are walking or running along the trail by the lake or in the neighborhood park, keep your distance. Six feet or more. If anyone passes, get off to the side. Let them pass. Now is not the time for contact sports. No football. No basketball games. If you must play basketball, play alone with your own ball.

Contributing: Luc Wilusz

Eight people were shot dead, including two fatally, on December 24, 2020.

Chicago police hit the Lakefront Trail Wednesday night, relocating joggers and walkers to encourage social distancing.
Won J. Park / For the Sun-Times

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