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Taste of Chicago Opens Under Shadow of Weekend Violence

Waiting for the Outer Express bus outside of the entrance of Taste of Chicago, Anetha Watson squinted into the sun and chewed a small burger.

Watson, a South Side resident of Chicago, has lost three family members to gun violence since 2007.

“It’s sad,” Watson said. “I lost two nephews, my sisters’ sons in 2007 and 2008. I lost my only son in 2009 he was killed in the streets by another young teenager.”

Just three days after a particularly violent Fourth of July weekend that left 14 people dead, the Taste of Chicago kicked off its five-day food festival Wednesday in Grant Park. In its 34th year, the Taste has more than 60 restaurants and added 16 new food trucks to the lineup.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel kicks off the Taste of Chicago with a bite of watermelon from Mariano's after a press conference.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel kicks off the Taste of Chicago with a bite of watermelon from Mariano’s after a press conference opening the five-day festival downtown. (Photo by Myranda Thigpen)

City officials kicked off the event under the shadow of a deadly holiday weekend in which more than 80 people were shot.

“I think people just have too much free time on their hands over long weekends,” said Gloria Lando, 43, a stay-at-mom from Orland Park who brought her 13-year-old son to the Taste. “Every single long weekend, it’s always the same.”

Vincent Smith, born and raised on the south side of Chicago, said the killings were unnecessary.

“I think it’s just going to get worse and the city can’t do anything about it,” he said. “No amount of regulation can stop this and the police are stumped.”

Smith, now a homeless man who lives at Millennium Park, said downtown is his salvation.

“I would rather be homeless in downtown than risk my life among youths in the South Side. All they care about is their guns. They don’t give a damn for their own lives.”

The South and West sides are the neighborhoods that have concentrated amounts of gun violence.

[pullquote]“I am only 25 years old, I can’t believe I have made it this far”, said Tyrone Wallace, a resident of Chicago Southwest suburbs. “ I use to live out South. It’s rough out there. These kids have nothing to do in the summer since they’re out of school.”[/pullquote]

The communities themselves need to play a more active role in curbing the violence, Robert Jackson, a retired detective from Fuller Park said while walking the grounds of Taste of Chicago.

“Community residents are the ones perpetrating the crimes,” he said. “There’s this code of ‘no snitching.’ The people in the community need to point their hands and say ‘I saw this person do it.’”

Eliy Geroulis, 20, was at the Taste promoting a mobile app for patrons to check in and give feedback restaurants.

“It was obscene,” said Geroulis, who lives in Chicago. “I think these numbers should scare people.”

During a press conference to welcome tourists and citizens to the Taste, Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) was heckled by William Kelly, the host of the cable television show Power Play.


“What do you have to say about Chicago’s murder capital moniker?” asked Kelly repeatedly. The Mayor ignored his questions. Later while the mayor greeted visitors to the taste Kelly continued to ask him questions about the recent shootings in the Chicago.

Kelly even encouraged visitors to ask questions about the violence for him. “I have already addressed this question before,” Emanuel told him, before walking away.


As she was sitting in the sun near Buckingham Fountain looking through the Taste of Chicago program, Annie Bashaw, 76, was approached by Chicago’s mayor. Rahm Emanuel, who had just wrapped up a press conference opening the festival, walked towards where she was seated. Emanuel shook her hand and continued on his way to the festival’s main drag followed by a trail of security and journalists. Bashaw beamed after him as he walked away and said she didn’t blame the mayor for the violence.

“The mayor has done great work and we hear about it everywhere,” said Vivek Kumar, a visitor from Mumbai, India. “Children are molded by the gangs that influence them. The city has no control of this and the police have worked hard with the mayor to get something done.”

Chris Stinson, 24, from Idaho, moved to Chicago four months ago. He said he wasn’t overly surprised by the heavy violence over the Fourth weekend.

“I’ve become numb to it,” he said.

Trevor Clay, 21, of the Humboldt Park neighborhood, sent a message to a friend living in Tel Aviv, Israel, telling him to be safe. His friend told him to be safe in Chicago. “Crazy that he’s over there, worrying about me,” Clay said.

George Silva, 27, a teacher from Sleepy Hollow said she couldn’t believe that 82 people were injured during the holiday weekend. The number “is an injury count you’d expect at the end of a Rambo movie, not in one weekend,” he said.

Others said they did not notice.

“It didn’t affect me at all,” said Kelly Peterson, a student at Roosevelt University who lives in Lincoln Park. “I heard what happened on the news.”

Samantha Fisher, a 21-year-old waitress from Oak Lawn and visitor of Taste of Chicago, described Chicago’s elevated gun violence over the holiday weekend as simply “crazy.”

“It definitely needs to be stopped,” Fisher said. “Stricter guns laws, that’s it. Make it harder to get guns.”

As she stood at the intersection of Congress and Michigan Avenue directing traffic for The Taste of Chicago, Rhonda Rush, 40, worried about the safety of her son, who’s soon to be a college student.

‘I’m so stressed because I have to worry about him,” Rush said. “ I’ll be able to rest and relax when he leaves.”

Her 17-year old son complains about being restricted to freedom. As a precaution, she frequently calls to check in with him.

“At this point, it’s too late because the kids are raising themselves,” Rush said.

Tracy Powell, a residence of the northside Lakeview community, said although there are more robberies than shootings, the violence stems from the influence of an environment.

“Parents are young and kids are raising kids,” Powell said. “When you come outside, it’s your environment and the people you hang out with.”

Annie Roberts, a 35-year-old criminologist visiting Chicago from Quebec said that her whole family was worried and anxious about her traveling to the city. While walking her yipping poodle through Solti Gardens on Michigan Avenue, Roberts admitted that she had no idea about the level of violence that took place in the city over the July 4th weekend. “We have gun violence in Quebec but it’s not the same as in Chicago.”

Tichina Moore, 26, a student at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, said the media are too focused on the violence on the South Side, where she is from. “The violence is compounded by the amount of attention given to certain areas,” she said. “It’s disheartening.”

Rashmi Shivni, Myranda Thigpen, Max Green, Victoria Street, Molly Hess, Emily Machura, Iman Baraki, Lee Kolcz, Dylan Oakes and Carissa Peters contributed to this story.



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