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Basketball controversies

In the name of protecting kids, there's a movement to take their sports equipment away

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Shajuan put up a jumper from about 12 feet as his two defenders got ready to grab the rebound. There wasn't one. The shot bounced high off the rim and then fell through.

Shajuan and his friends play regularly at the Oz Park basketball hoops, which are across a field from their school, Lincoln Park High. But earlier this summer, after a couple of fights broke out on the courts, the rims were taken down for a few weeks following school officials' determination that they were a "magnet for trouble." Though they're back up now, community leaders are still talking about locking them up so no one can use them during or after school—exactly the hours when young people need something to do. Shajuan sees the move as a major overreaction.

"It was all over some trash-talking," he says. "They should keep the rims up."

Though crime numbers have dropped steadily in recent years, concerns about drug dealing, gang activity, and violence are very real in neighborhoods across Chicago. Residents and officials in a number of them believe getting rid of basketball hoops can help. They say that not only do fights break out frequently on the courts, but gangbangers try to recruit younger members or deal drugs under the guise of waiting for the next game.

Then again—these are places where people play basketball.

The debate over whether basketball courts attract violence—or whether they're simply blamed because people are afraid of the young men of color they see playing ball—has been going on for years. Once nearly ubiquitous in parks and playgrounds, outdoor hoops are now limited to a fraction of city schools and fewer than half of city parks.

"We receive many more requests to install, upgrade, or replace park equipment than requests to remove it," says Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Park District. "However, we have removed park equipment at the overwhelming requests of community members and/or aldermen."

Over the last few weeks we followed three very different hoops controversies in three very different neighborhoods where residents and elected officials are wrangling over questions of safety, race, and public space.

In Bronzeville, community leaders are trying to figure out how to get people back on the courts after an early summer tragedy.

In Lincoln Park, officials and residents are battling over whether to restrict access to hoops in an area where nothing serious has happened yet

And in Uptown, basketball rims were taken down at a popular park after the alderman said it would help the community fight gangs. But the gang violence has continued, and some residents say the move was really about a push to gentrify the area.

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