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Following Up on Chicago's Independence Eve Violence

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Mike Doyle

Since 2005 scribe of the local blog, Chicago Carless. I invite you to visit.

IMG_0058Yesterday's Chicagosphere post on alleged gang violence during Chicago's Independence Eve fireworks turned out to be one of today's top stories on ChicagoNow. That post compared official reports of a relatively "peaceful" July 3rd fireworks display with reports from the blog, Second City Cop, and several Twitter members indicating a sizable gang presence, multiple gang-related fights, numerous guns recovered, and a potential shooting or serious injury at or around 8:30 p.m. in the vicinity of Buckingham Fountain (follow the above link for more details.) Today on Chicagosphere, I'm here to tell you we intend to get to the bottom of things--and how you can help us do that.

There are distinct differences between traditional and online news gathering. Traditional media can be overly concerned with holding back the news until every possible iota of doubt is absent--and every possible edge above the competition is leveraged.

That strategy doesn't work so well on a cooperative, transparent online playing field. Instead, here on the blogosphere, we can reach out to our existing social networks--bloggers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc.--and engage (or "crowd-source") them in helping find an answer to a question or solution to a problem that affects us all.

The strategy offers immediate benefits. It's the one I followed yesterday in researching, reporting on, and developing a wide-reaching discussion around a story of alleged July 3rd gang violence with the potential to affect every Chicagoan entering the Taste of Chicago grounds or attending the Independence Eve fireworks.


(Video: Watch me sign my FOIAs as I continue to research what really happened on Independence Eve.)

After publishing yesterday's post, I reached out to every major community news website in Chicago, contacted several bloggers including the editors of Second City Cop, asked my Twitter followers to retweet my request for additional information, reached out to my friends on Facebook, and engaged in the conversation in the comment threads of every site that picked up on the story--and almost every site that I contacted did just that.

The result has been dozens of comments here and on other Chicago-based media sites including Gapers Block, Windy Citizen, Chicago Carless, the Beachwood Reporter, Chicagoist, Huffington Post Chicago, Second City Cop, and the WBEZ Chicago Public Radio blog.

Many of those comments point to something having taken place on the evening of July 3rd that has not been reported in major media or confirmed by the city. The only semi-official word has been from Megan McDonald, Executive Director of the Mayor's Office of Special Events, posting several times in yesterday's comment thread, who was at Buckingham Fountain around the time of the alleged injury and who confirms having seen unrest in the crowd but nothing more.

I also received an email from the editor of a regular reader of Second City Cop who reported having been on the Taste of Chicago detail for much of last week, urging me to file a Freedom of Information Act request for the 911 call tapes from Independence Eve.

And that's just what I've done. This afternoon I filed FOIAs on that information and a whole lot more from the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department, and the Mayor's Office. Anyone familiar with how the FOIA process works in Chicago knows I probably won't hear back from anyone for a couple of months, and even then I may receive a denial letter or a stack of papers with key information redacted.

But it's a start--and it's something that every Chicagoan can do if they think the Windy City powers that be are holding something close to the vest that the public has a right to know. It doesn't look like the city wants to make it easy for you to do that, though. You won't be surprised when I tell you the city's official FOIA page offers the wrong FOIA form for download. The Illinois Attorney General's Office is more helpful, offering guidance on the FOIA process and a downloadable PDF template to write your own FOIA request.

If you want to know what happened the evening of July 3, 2009 at Chicago's Independence Eve fireworks, you, too, can FOIA the information.

Send FOIA requests for arrest and incident records to the Chicago Police Department here:

Chicago Police Department
Records Inquiry Division
3510 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60653

Send FOIA requests for EMS transport records to the Chicago Fire Department here:

Chicago Fire Department
Freedom of Information Office
10 35th Street, 14th Floor
Chicago, IL 60616

FOIA security reports regarding the Taste of Chicago from the Mayor's Office by writing directly to the all-purpose Mayor's Correspondence Unit here:

David Daskal, Director
Mayor's Correspondence Unit
121 North LaSalle Street, Room 406
Chicago, IL 60602

While we're waiting on the city, in the meanwhile I ask that you reach out to your own personal networks--both flesh-and-blood and online--and inquire whether anyone saw anything happen on Independence Eve that hasn't been reported in the media. I especially want to hear from Chicago police, EMS, and city workers who can remain anonymous as the spirit moves them.

We likely aren't at the bottom of this yet. But we'll get there--and we'll get there as an online community engaging in dialogue about the issues that affect our lives in the real world.

Finally, some have asked me why print media hasn't picked up this story. I've reached out to print reporters in the past 36 hours. I was told by one that there's no way to research an incidence of violence in a million-strong crowd.

My rebuttal to that answer is this post.

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10 Comments

Joe the Cop said:

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Just wanted to say great job working this story.

Mike Doyle said:

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Thanks, Joe. I really appreciate that.

(For those who don't know, the above commenter is the pseudonymed scribe of the ChicagoNow blog, Arresting Tales, and for the past 20 years has been a detective sergeant at a suburban police department.)

Mike Doyle said:

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I've updated this post to note that the person who suggested I file the FOIAs was a reader of the Second City Cop blog, not an editor. Both the reader and editor in question contacted me to clear up the confusion--and thank you to both.

Mike Doyle said:

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In several of the discussions generated by Monday's post on various websites, commenters have wondered whether what was heard (or in some instances what they, themselves, heard) in the vicinity of Buckingham Fountain were gunshots or fireworks.

In response to Monday's post and those commenters, yesterday the Windy Citizen's Chicago Explainer blog published an excellent post discussing the high-tech methods used by the CPD to discern the difference between gunshots and other loud noises like fireworks. It's well worth a read--and an example of the type of community discussion I hoped to inspire with yesterday's post.

tymmas said:

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Great job on trying to surface the truth on this pervasive problem. A similar incident happened a couple of weeks ago during the mini heat wave...Some gangbangers were coming back from North Ave beach, an altercation occured, and someone got stabbed on the corner of North and State, in the middle of the gold coast. That is certainly news in this neighborhood - but there has not been one story that I've been able to find in the local media. Anecdotal? Maybe...

Mike Doyle said:

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See this Gapers Block Mechanics column post (GB's political column) for a look at what might happen negatively due to the Taste of Chicago violence issue raised by me on Chicagosphere and by the Second City Cop blog. Author Jacob Lesniewski (whom I've worked with before and a fine political thinker) wonders whether the City of Chicago will use the continued controversy over security at the Taste to begin racially profiling attendees in some way as a method of identifying gang members.

Hopefully not. Though judging by video of last week's event I've seen on YouTube (here's a clip sent to me by a reader), it looks more like this year the gang members announced themselves in no uncertain terms. Readers can judge for themselves.

BlueFairlane said:

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Your post--with its condemnation of traditional media's preference to not publish until facts are gathered and verified--illustrates one of the many problems with the internet-based citizen journalist movement. Thus far, you seem to be very proud of yourself for having uncovered little more than rumor, assumption, and innuendo. Journalists wait because they know the power of their words to cause panic and damage reputations. Your pursuit thus far has merely managed to sensationalize a small number of third and fourth party accounts, all while patting yourself heavily on the back. Were this century-old print media, it would be called yellow journalism.

I encourage you to continue your search for some proof of your assertions, but until you've found it, you've really pointed out nothing.

Mike Doyle said:

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BlueFairlane, I'll go you one better. I encourage you to disclose who you are. Perhaps your real name, where you work, what you do. Establish your credentials or otherwise come out from hiding behind an anonymous avatar. You know, for me to find some reason to actually take you seriously?

As I pointed out in this very post which I suppose you glossed over in your glee to get to the comment thread, this is an investigation into what happened, not an endpoint. But I thank you for giving me the opportunity to underscore that point.

mmmcd76 said:

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Mike,

I have responded similarly on your Carless blog...and at the risk of repeating myself.

I find it surprising that, even after having confirmed this to you more than once, you continue to perpetuate the rumor (posted yet again today) that the Fireworks on July 3rd started 30 minutes early.

WGN (who actually did a LIVE televised special of the Fireworks at 9:00pm which they promoted for weeks), the Chicago Tribune, NBC5 Chicago, Time Out magazine, the City of Chicago website and any other printed piece specific to the Taste of Chicago indicates a 9pm start time.

The 2009 Fireworks started at 8:55pm. While math may not be my strongest subject, I am fairly certain that indicates a 5 minute difference, not 30 minutes.

What other proof do you need?

I get that people are trying to bring the conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork, and if that's what gets people going - fine. But at the very least - when there are hard facts on something - you should do the responsible thing and report them.

C'mon. Let's at least be fair about this particular subject matter.

Mike Doyle said:

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Megan I don't have a comment submission on Carless from you. If you submitted one, please resubmit. You've already made the point that the fireworks started at 9:00 in the comment thread of Monday's post. Which is where this comment properly belongs, since the above Chicagosphere entry does not deal with the fireworks time question.

What specifically are you asking for here?

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