Return of the basketball rims

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The basketball rims are back up at Broncho Billy Playlot park.

Park officials reinstalled the rims about a week and a half ago, after about three dozen people who live nearby appealed to the Chicago Park District board during its October 12 meeting. The informational packet they presented to board members included copies of the story Kevin Warwick and I wrote last month about controversies surrounding the hoops at Broncho Billy and two other parks, says Anton Miglietti, one of the leaders of the group.

Miglietta says they are planning to organize supervised activities at the park and hope to secure new investment from city and park officials. “We are continuing on to make that park a center of our community,” he says.

Not everyone is jumping for joy at the news.

Forty-sixth Ward alderman James Cappleman had the rims taken down at the beginning of the summer after concluding they'd helped turn the area into a gang “hotspot.” He announced the rim removals in an e-mail newsletter in June.

But his most recent newsletter, sent out last week, didn’t mention the Broncho Billy basketball court. And the alderman didn’t return our calls for comment—apparently making good on his threat not to talk to us again if we didn’t report our original story the way he saw it.

Specifically, Cappleman insisted the story wasn’t about race—which is exactly what Miglietta and a number of other parents said was the central issue. They noted that the park—and the court in particular—was predominantly used by black kids, while most of the neighbors complaining about it were white, not to mention recent arrivals to Uptown.

This infuriated their neighbors on the other side of the dispute, who argued that the matter was all about safety—they said the hoops seemed to attract and embolden area “gangbangers” at a time when shootings in the surrounding blocks had become all too common.

Some then blamed Kevin and me for helping the bad guys.

It should go without saying that no one should have to live under threat of violence.

But the sources of violence are complex. And in this case, a close look at reported crime in the area around Broncho Billy showed no connection between violence and the removal of the rims.

The Park District doesn’t have a clear policy for when it installs or disables basketball hoops—which is why officials ended up spending their time and energy answering to one interest after another in the Broncho Billy controversy. “We certainly do our best to work with the community,” says Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner. “We also take direction from the local police districts and the aldermanic office.”

Carolyn Lewis, who visits Broncho Billy regularly with her two-year-old daughter, initially supported Cappleman’s decision, saying it helped keep older, rowdy youth out of a park that's targeted at kids 12 and younger.

A couple of days ago, though, she told me she was still wrestling with the situation. “I admit I have mixed feelings,” she wrote in an e-mail. “While some may argue the kids need a place to play, I say that if they want to play, they need to be supervised by an adult and respectful of the others that use the playground. Removing the hoops, and now bringing them back, is just moving the group of loud, disrespectful, violent teens around the neighborhood.”

She added: “I realize now this is a larger issue than the basketball hoops.”

Contributing: Kevin Warwick

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