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Several hundred people gathered in James Park on Aug. 6 for “Jamaica Day,” a celebration of Jamaican culture, music and food sponsored by the Evanston Cricket Club. The celebration, scheduled to end at 9 p.m., was shut down about 30 minutes early when several minors who were not part of the Jamaican festivities ignored police instructions to disperse and instead merged into the larger crowd.
The early end to the evening did not appear to dampen the celebratory mood, as several attendees told the RoundTable it was a wonderful event as they departed. Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said, “I want to thank everyone for coming out to celebrate Jamaica Day. It was a wonderful time and we look forward to next year.” Ald. Braithwaite is himself of Jamaican descent.
Deputy Chief Jay Parrott of the Evanston Police stressed that the police were involved because of “two rival factions of Evanston teens [that had] nothing to do with the festival itself.” James Park “may have been a place where they decided to meet” on Sunday night, he said.
Deputy Chief Parrott said there were no guns seen and no shots fired, but safety was a primary concern, and when the youth the police told to disperse “retreated into the crowd,” the decision was made to shut down the festival early.
The music was due to end at 9 p.m., but instead was turned off sometime around 8:30 p.m., he said.
The Skokie Police Department and Chicago Police Department assisted in making sure everyone got home safely, said Deputy Chief Parrott. “When a crowd is dispersing, sometimes that is when things happen.” Skokie and Chicago police officers were “just there to assist” in the process of emptying the park, he said.
The incident had “nothing to do with the festival,” said Deputy Chief Parrott, but was “due to the fact that the teens in question have a history of gun violence [and] have exchanged shots in the past. It is unfortunate that their actions” led to an early end to the festival.
The City has “never had a problem with the festival in the past,” added Deputy Chief Parrott. “I’ve been to it before [and] enjoy the day.” The safety of all the attendees was the primary concern, he said, and even the possibility that an exchange of gunfire between rival groups in a crowded park was enough to warrant shutting the event down.
Ald. Braithwaite agreed with the decision given the safety concerns and the late hour. Volunteers arrived at the park as early as 6 a.m. to set up the festival and returned the next day to complete clean up, he said.
Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s Director of Parks, confirmed that the park was cleaned by 9:30 a.m. the next morning. “I’ve read comments indicating that it was not cleaned,” he said. “That’s not true.”