If you want to see a Forest Park police car late at night just head over to the corner of Marengo and Roosevelt any weekend night. For the past month there has been a heavy police presence there with squad cars stopped or driving by repeatedly.
That’s where Tonik Bar & Grill is located. The owners and customers of Tonik, a bar that now attracts a mostly African American crowd, charge that this heavy police presence constitutes harassment. But the Forest Park police chief and mayor say that the police are there because there have been many incidents of unruly behavior in that area and that they are merely protecting the residents of the quiet residential area behind Tonik.
A Forest Park Review reporter and photographer stayed up late on Saturday and went to Tonik in the wee hours of Sunday morning to check out the scene for themselves.
“I’ve never seen so much police,” said Vince Greene, a Niles resident who comes to Tonik on Saturday nights to hear a DJ spin reggae music. “I’m 40 years old. I’ve been to a lot of clubs in Chicago and this is the first time I’ve seen so many cops at one single location. I don’t understand it.”
Nik Pervan, who has owned Tonik with his brother for almost six years, says that the increased police presence began when he began attracting a mostly black crowd about a year ago.
“I do believe that Tonik has been under significantly increased police scrutiny over the past year to year and a half, and that the increased scrutiny coincides with a change in the racial makeup of our patrons to a predominantly African-American crowd,” Pervan wrote in an e-mail.
But Forest Park officials say it is behavior not race that is the problem at Tonik.
“Probably in the last three or four months we had a flurry of activity there in the residential area,” said Forest Park Police Chief Jim Ryan. “A lot of residents were extremely concerned over the volatile behavior of their patrons. They were drinking in cars and doing drugs in cars and being disorderly and stuff like that so we did step up patrols considerably down there. We have a couple of officers just assigned to the bars on Roosevelt Road.”
Mayor Anthony Calderone, who by statute also serves as liquor commissioner, says there has been “directed patrol activity” focused on the area where Tonik is located for the past month or so.
Across Marengo from Tonik is the Hideaway bar and half a block west on Roosevelt is the bar Carole’s Next Best Thing. But the police attention clearly seems focused on Tonik. At times a squad car will stop in a parking lot right across from Tonik and sit for extended periods with its headlights focused right on Tonik’s entrance.
“It’s terrible, it’s horrible, it’s ridiculous,” said Curtis Willie of Riverside who was at Tonik last Saturday night.
Squad cars cruise the alleys around Tonik and 10 days ago a squad car was observed driving very slowly southbound on Marengo apparently checking license plates of every car parked on the street. Two squad cars sat for an extended period of time in the parking lot of the Walgreens one block east of Tonik on Roosevelt Road last weekend.
Ryan makes no apologies for the heavy police presence.
“Our officers are very vigilant down there,” Ryan said. “If nobody’s doing anything wrong they’re not going to get arrested.”
“The best police presence is in numbers,” Calderone said. “If it takes four cars to maintain order in that neighborhood then it takes four. If it takes six then we’ll have six there.”
The police presence has resulted in some arrests. On April 10 the police stopped a 24-year-old Broadview man who was heading to Tonik for his sister’s birthday party because he was allegedly driving a car with suspended registration. After pulling the car over the police found a small amount of cannabis in a plastic bag and a cannabis cigar inside the car according to the police report. Police arrested the man.
A-28-year-old Chicago woman was arrested for smoking pot near Tonik on Friday night and two men from Bellwood were arrested a block away from Tonik for resisting and obstructing officers according to Ryan.
Calderone says neighbors on Marengo have complained about loud, rude and sometimes violent behavior from people entering and leaving Tonik.
“There is a larger-than-acceptable number of residents calling for police services,” Calderone said. “The Village of Forest Park has an obligation to maintain peace and order for the residents of our community, and as a consequence of careless and reckless conduct within the neighborhood around Tonik, we have a directed police patrol taking place in and around that area.”
Race has nothing to do with it, Calderone insists.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this is not racially motivated,” Calderone says. “This is about maintaining peace and order for the residents that live in that neighborhood. Forest Park has been a well integrated community for a long time. It’s easy to play the race card, but that doesn’t go too far with us because we’re used to dealing with all races. We’re talking about behavior problems and if you’re breaking the law, whether you’re white, black or any other color, if you’re breaking the law we’re going to arrest you. This doesn’t have anything to do with color. This has to do with maintaining the peace. It’s that simple.”
The owners of Tonik agreed to a three day suspension of their liquor license last November and to pay $1,750 in penalties after the village filed a complaint alleging violations of the liquor code.
But Pervan, who is white, now says that some of the alleged violations never occurred and that he and his lawyer agreed to the penalties to prove his good faith with the village.
“The village complaint stated that on May 9, 2009 a fight broke out in Tonik and was pushed out to Tonik’s parking lot where a patron was stabbed,” Pervan wrote in his e-mail. “This complaint was proven false by the fact that Tonik does not even have a parking lot.”
In a subsequent phone interview Pervan says that the person was stabbed in Chicago. Ryan said the information about the stabbing came from the hospital that treated the injured woman. Last October the complaint alleged that a fight broke out at Tonik and Tonik never informed police of the fight in violation of village ordinance. But Pervan says his own bartender called the police from a cell phone to report the incident and that cell phone records prove that.
Ryan says Tonik has, at times, hosted events that have attracted gang members and has even employed a gang member to do promotional work.
“These are inner-city hard-core gang members,” Ryan said. “A lot of them are armed. Almost all of them are extremely volatile and violent. They’re extremely abusive to our officers. They continually try to fight and goad our officers.”
But when a Forest Park Review reporter was at Tonik, once until the 3 a.m. closing time, the last two Saturday nights the crowd was mature and mellow. Most seemed to be at least 25 years old and many were clearly older than 30. They were there to dance or listen to music.
Ryan said problems have occurred on other occasions, mostly when the bar sponsors “birthday parties.”
“That’s generally when we have the most disturbances and fights and hard-core people,” Ryan said.
Last fall Ryan said that a known gang member was hired to do promotional work for Tonik. But Pervan denied hiring the gang member.
“This is completely false,” Pervan wrote. “I never hired the named person for any work at my bar nor would I ever allow or condone any gang activity in or around my bar.”
Pervan also said that he has never seen anyone armed inside Tonik.
Tonik has DJ’s four night a week. They play a variety of music from house, hip hop to reggae. Pervan says that he has changed the mix of music to attract a more sedate crowd.
The customers of Tonik are convinced that the police are watching them just because they are black.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Greene said. “There is no possible reason it would be anything else.”
But Calderone says that the police presence has been effective.
“The number of calls complaining about being woken up at 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning has seriously diminished,” Calderone said.