On Independence Day, scores of youth descended en masse on Chicago’s lakefront in a scene that erupted in a mob-style beating on the lakefront trail and another group attack that spilled into the southbound outer lanes of Lake Shore Drive.
The holiday weekend and inviting weather kept the lakefront busy throughout much of the city yesterday. More than 125,000 visitors were expected at Navy Pier, where officials closed the gates two and a half hours before the 9:30 p.m. show because crowds had already reached full capacity. Just north of Navy Pier, bicyclists and joggers were joined by a steadily growing number of people strolling the lakefront or staking out spots along its raised steps to take in the show.
By around 7:00 p.m., large numbers of young teens were appearing on the lakefront, some in small groups and others in throngs of perhaps a hundred or more. As a whole the group was somewhat amorphous, sometimes coming together in a nearly singular critical mass, other times scattering and remaining in smaller, separate units before reuniting again.
In multiple instances, members of the group surrounded bystanders seated on lakefront’s concrete steps waiting for the fireworks to begin. It was unclear whether the assailants wanted only to intimidate the victims – or to rob them, flash-mob style. Groups of a dozen or more suddenly sat down on both sides of victims, while standing in front of them and also walking up behind them. Within moments, an individual, couple or family would be surrounded by a large, unknown, menacing group of teens. Some got up and walked away, clearly shaken, and others bravely held their ground.
People walking, jogging or biking did not seem to face harassment, other than the obstruction of walking and biking lanes by certain members of the group who swaggered arms-length apart down the lakefront, taking up an outsized portion of the walkway.
Around 7:20 or 7:25, the first fight broke out, several hundred yards north of Navy Pier in front of 850 N. Lake Shore Drive. It happened quickly: there was a commotion near the sidewalk (on the raised, western edge of the lakefront) which quickly moved to the middle of the lakefront. A mob chased a young man into the middle of the lakefront, where he fell to the ground and they continued to kick him until several uniformed police officers on bicycle arrived.
At 7:38, another major assault erupted. Dozens of teens streamed across Lake Shore Drive itself and beat another victim until officers quickly approached and the crowd fled the scene. Others approached a stopped motorist at the intersection of Chestnut & Lake Shore Drive and appeared to harass or threaten the driver. Vehicles on the major north-south freeway braked and stopped to avoid the stream of people rushing across the lanes, or were alternatively stopped by police officers who followed them.
Updates with more information and analysis to follow…