"I know what gangbangers look like, and these were not gangbangers," stated Tactical Sergeant Mark Zenere, who was on duty at Ford City Mall during the incident and who came to the CAPS Beat 834 meeting at Bogan High School, apparently to offer his firsthand insights to the roughly two dozen local men and women on hand. "These were not thugs. These were exuberant youths with a couple of bad actors among them, acting like teenage boys sometimes will."
Video of the incident, as well as eyewitness testimony showed some of the 200 jumping on and damaging cars, looting a Best Buy store and intimidating innocent men, women and children.
Zenere, a veteran law enforcement official, said he was on duty at Ford City because CPD was aware that Mindless Behavior would attract a large crowd. He added that CPD "...had intel that there might be conflicts" between gang factions from the Englewood area at Ford City that day.
He claimed that the situation "...got blown out of proportion by the news media" and by individuals posting videos of the mob action of YouTube and discussing the situation on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
He stated that he was inside the mall for much of the time and praised Ford City officials for good planning and organization inside the building as they accommodated as many as a thousand young fans of recording artists Mindless Behavior, who were invited to the mall to conduct a meet-and-greet to promote their music, movie and merchandise.
He added that the large majority of the Mindless Behavior fans were young girls and their mothers.
Despite the fact that Ford City officials, on CPD advice, evacuated and shut down the mall a short time after the Mindless Behavior event ended, Zenere insisted there was an adequate police presence on hand, saying that roughly 50 units responded. "There were more than enough police. It was not out of control," he said. Regarding the now-infamous videos shot by the teens themselves and posted on YouTube, Zenere said "One kid, took one chair, and hit one car."
"I saw no great threat," he added, telling the group that there was no significant level of injuries to people. (According to city officials, two people injured at the scene were transported to local hospitals with minor injuries, including a CTA bus driver who took glass shards to his eye when a young thug smashed the bus windshield.)
CPD Sergeant Allen Cain, head of the Eighth District CAPS Program and seated next to Zenere at Thursday evening's meeting, supported Zenere's assertions by stating that what occurred around Ford City paled by comparison with the West Side riots that occurred after the Chicago Bulls NBA championship triumphs in the 1990s. "We were there," Cain said. "We saw people turning over an ambulance---with people inside."
Zenere also likened what occurred at Ford City to rock and roll concerts of the mid-1960s. "This was literally like the Beatles," he said.
Most of the audience members sat in silence during Zenere's remarks. Several seemed skeptical, and several others agreed aloud with him that the news media blew the incident out of proportion.
Cain ended the discussion by assuring the audience that CPD officials at multiple levels, Ford City security representatives and others have met in debriefing sessions since the February 23 incident to learn from the experience.
(Editor's note: coverage of the rest of the CAPS Beat 834 meeting, items other than Ford City, coming later.)
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