Cops to teens: 'Don't get ready to rumble'

?Two mob action incidents lead group to arm with bats

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By BILL DWYER

Oak Park police are clamping down on two groups of teenagers who have been engaged in an escalating dispute over the summer. The bad blood between the two groups has recently involved the possession and use of potentially lethal weapons.

On July 16 an Oak Park juvenile was struck on the head with a baseball bat by an unknown 15- to 19-year-old male during a street fight that erupted after an argument at a birthday party in the 700 block of North Humphrey.

Two days later, on July 18, a black Ford F-150 pickup truck pulled up in front of three juvenile males and an adult standing in front of a house in the 200 block of South Lombard. Five or six males, dressed in white T-shirts, jumped out of the cab and bed of the truck, wielding baseball bats and a hammer. They began swinging the weapons at the other four men, though no blows landed.

Blows did land, however, on one of the victim's Toyota Camry, breaking the rear window and causing $250 in damages. The assailants then jumped back into the truck and drove off.

On July 27, four Oak Park juveniles were charged with disorderly conduct after being observed by police walking in the 200 block of South Lombard, while in possession of baseball bats, a hammer and a 3-inch knife. Several of those arrested made oral statements to police that they had obtained the aluminum bats for use against a group of teens with whom they were having an ongoing dispute.

Oak Park Police said they have been working with Township Youth Services officials since last fall to help head off further violence following problems in November and December of 2004. In early December of that year, a confrontation between an Oak Park youth and a rival group led to the youth firing a hand gun in the air. He was subsequently charged with a felony fire arms charge.

In the following months Oak Park Township Youth Services Director John Williams and his staff devoted much of their time to talking with the some 15 teens and their families to prevent further violence. This summer's problems, said Williams, involve some of the same kids, as well as youths from outside the village.

"Yeah, some of them are the same ones," he said. "It's the same type of behavior we were dealing with [last December]."

"Some people are involved in all three incidents," confirmed Oak Park Deputy Chief of Police Robert Scianna. He characterized the participants as being "mostly Oak Park kids" and "in their mid-teens, just short of being adults."

"They know each other," he said.

"What we have here are immature boys," said Williams. "They need to grow up and learn to be men."

Williams said that while a majority of parents and some of the teens appear open to community intervention, a few are not.

"There's a couple of individuals who?have this smirk on their faces," he said, adding that he doesn't believe those individuals have any intention of changing their behavior. "There's a handful of provocateurs who are very good at stirring up the pot and motivating other kids to do stupid things."

Scianna said his department has been making use of its three school resource officers in the summer months to deal with the ongoing situation. Meanwhile, police have been focusing on potential trouble areas.

"We're keeping an eye on the hot spots," said Scianna. "We've instituted random foot patrols in the areas we've identified as trouble spots."

Williams said that due to the escalation in violence, the situation has become primarily a police matter.

"Unfortunately the police have needed to be involved more and more," said Williams, who stressed that the current state of affairs could easily produce tragic consequences. "It's an unintentional blow away from somebody getting seriously hurt."

Scianna said that while he empathizes with some who fear for their safety, his department will continue to have zero tolerance for teens arming themselves for any reason.

"If we wink at the little things, they'll turn into bigger things. And such things as rowdy behavior by teens leads to criminal behavior," said Scianna. "Such criminal behavior will not be tolerated. They bring out the bats and hammers; we'll bring out the handcuffs."

Oak Park first undertook a strong effort to head off youth violence after an incident that occurred 10 years ago this month, when a 19-year-old Chicago resident and reputed gang member Marcus Mance, 19, was killed across from the Oak Park Police station at the culmination of a series of gang-related fights and shootings that summer.

Following an earlier drive by shooting on August 25, 1995, a mob estimated at between 20 to 30 youth spotted Mance and another alleged member of the rival gang that had reportedly fired on them earlier getting off a bus at Ridgeland and Madison. They chased the two young men and encircled them at the Amoco gas station at Madison and Lombard.

When Mance attempted to break away, he was struck in the head by a bottle thrown by someone in the crowd. He was taken to Loyola Medical Center, where he lingered in a coma for 18 days before dying. Three Oak Park residents were charged with murder, and William A. Trotter, 19, was convicted of Mance's murder in April, 1997. He is currently serving a 36 year prison sentence.

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