The Review was not alone, late Saturday night, in observing the crowds of bar-goers congested along Madison and actively spilling out of several establishments. Forest Park police were on perpetual patrol up and down the street with multiple squads assigned. By closing time at 2 a.m. officers were on foot, in and out of bars monitoring the shutdown process. We learned later that multiple village officials were also watching closely. And Sunday morning, on double time, a public works crew was cleaning up the remnants of the carousing.
We are used to the first warm spring weekend nights bringing out the crowds. But we are stunned and honestly horrified that the taste for a drink and some rowdy company made the continuing dangers of the pandemic irrelevant to so many people. There were virtually no masks and no social distancing in evidence on Madison Saturday night.
And we are cognizant that amid cascades of neighbor complaints, of police reports filed, of defenses made by bar owners, there is a racial aspect to the unease in Forest Park this spring on Madison Street. The Forest Park Tap Room, Doc Ryan’s, and Mugsy’s are drawing large crowds, almost entirely Black. So is it the race, the size of the crowd, the behavior of the individuals, a combination thereof that has tensions high?
We don’t know the answer. We know that not acknowledging race in this discussion is not possible or healthy. Shouldn’t be overemphasized. Can’t be ignored.
We’ve seen a version of this before in Forest Park. When the old Pines/Oak Leaf Lounge occasionally sprang back to life on Harrison Street, the angst of neighbors was not unrelated to the race of the people doing the line dancing.
For its part, village government is looking for a middle place between the legitimate demands of immediate neighbors for some peace and quiet, the rights of licensed bars to operate and make a dime, the slipping hard-won balance that Forest Park had achieved pre-COVID of diminishing bars while raising up restaurants.
So officials are working the edges. They’re cutting an hour off serving times. They’ve shut down the Forest Park Tap Room once already and may need to do it again. They are now working to hold property owners as well as bar owners to account for bad behavior. There is talk of limiting certain types of entertainment — DJs, for instance — that draw larger crowds.
There’s no simple fix. There’s no doing nothing and riding it out. And always there are worries that in a moment this mess could escalate well beyond litter and public urination into violence. That’s the world we live in.
Village officials need to continue a vigilant but thoughtful response. And bar owners need to be part of the solution. Mayor Hoskins says he has informally heard from the owners. The owners want a more formal process of being heard.
So long as being heard adds to accountability, we’re for that.