On Wednesday evening, at 6:20PM when Ron and I entered the 15th District meeting room, we joined 13 other members of the community already waiting for the start of the scheduled 6:30PM meeting. As we scanned their faces and demeanors, and noted the faint smell of alcohol in the room, we surmised that most if not all were there in support of the Winners Sports Bar and the activities believed to be perpetrated by patrons of the bar.
At the invitation of the Alderman Graham and the police commander Green, we had come out as residents of the community and CANA members to communicate our opinions and concerns directly to the owner of the bar. We were surprised and alarmed to find that, at the start of the meeting, we felt outnumbered by those who were most likely supporters of activities and behaviors which we found detrimental to our community.
We left the room, went into the hallway, and began to call others in the community who we felt shared our views about the activities outside of the bar, along the streets and on the corner near the bar. We began to relax as more people , CANA member among them, joined the meeting. By the end of the meeting, with approximately 50 people in attendance, I would still estimate that at least half of the people in attendance were there to voice support for the bar owner and to express their desire to continue their activities on the street.
We can perhaps gain additional insight into why problems exist in or community if we listen to the comments made by those who came to support activities by patrons of the bar. I will paraphrase some of the comments.
- Jimmy, the owner, can’t control people. He is not responsible.
- We have known Jimmy for many years and like him.
- Jimmy asks people to move from in front of his bar
- We come out to smoke
- The police are not doing their job.
- The people come from Oak Park.
- This is a property value issue
- The people doing the complaining are not a part of the community because we don’t know them
- This is “good traffic” through our area
- If we have to, a million of us will come out to show our support
The one statement that is always particularly troubling, and speaks to the poor self image of many of our residents, was made as well:
“This is the West Side.”
The owner of the bar spoke.
- The problem has been solved
- I tell people not to stand in front of my bar
- I stop retail sales at 11:00PM
- Police need to do their job
- The laundromat owner needs to do more
Fortunately a number of clear thinking residents spoke of their experiences, observations and the damage done to our community.
- In prior negotiations related to complaints about the bar, the owner had said he would hire private security. There is no evidence that he has complied with the request.
- Public drinking, public intoxication, other drug use and loitering, all next door to a child day care center has had a devastating effect on families and children. Children and young adults who see this kind of behavior on a daily basis begin to think of this as normal and an acceptable choice for their behavior.
- The owner of the Day Care Center had to install bars and tint on the windows of her school because drunks were coming up to the building and urinating in the window in full view of the children. Her enrollment has suffered.
- Along Madison, the adjacent parking lot, both corners of Madison and Mason and the alley, bar patrons and others under the influence loiter, drink alcohol, use other illegal drugs, sit on cars, litter, have sex and play loud music.
- Businesses do not want to come to this area and many have left, causing further economic decline in the neighborhood
- Families instruct children to go out of their way to walk around these areas out of fear
- This activity blocks free flow of pedestrians on the sidewalk
- Long time residents should have a greater sense of responsibility for creating a decent environment and a better environment for their children
- Why are we having a conversation about behavior that is not defensible. This indicates how far the community has fallen.
The alderman led the meeting. Each person in the room was allowed to speak. In summary she stated:
- We did not come here to shut down the bar
- People clearly support the bar owner
- We want the bar owner to help make our area better.
- We came to reach an agreement among the patrons of the bar, the owner and the rest of the community
- We seek voluntary improvement.
- Patrons are asked to continue to patronize the bar and to move on from the street after they leave the bar
- Other businesses in the area are being asked to improve as well
The commander spoke at the end. His statement was short. He told all in attendance to spread the word that there would be zero tolerance for violations.
It remains evident that we cannot assume that someone else will be there to present our views and champion our concerns. We must continue to watch and speak out.