Gang violence and looting could ruin Barack Obama’s party in Chicago if he wins the US election.
“I hope to God I’m wrong, but there are 7,000 known gang members in Chicago and they aren’t going to miss an opportunity like this,” says Paul Huebl, a former police officer in the city and now a respected author and crime blogger.
“Police officers will be gravely outnumbered and outgunned and placed in danger.
“There is no way to protect businesses. Parents and kids are going to think they’re going to a party and they’re going to end up getting hurt.”
More than a million people are said to be planning to celebrate the expected election of the first black President of the United States.
Just 65,000 will be allowed inside a security cordon to see Obama on stage inside the city’s scenic Grant Park, which borders the shores of Lake Michigan.
But hundreds of thousands more are expected in the vicinity, and there are fears that whether Obama wins or loses, looting and gun violence will flare.
The Chicago Police Department has cancelled all days off for officers on Election Day.
“Everyone will be working 12-hour shifts,” said police spokeswoman Monique Bond.
However, Obama’s top strategist, David Axelrod, says: “We expect a good, supportive crowd, and we expect it to be a happy occasion. Whatever the result, we don’t expect trouble.”
That might be wishful thinking, given Chicago’s propensity for violence.
Last summer, Grant Park hosted the ‘Taste of Chicago’ food festival. Four were shot, one fatally.
In 1992, hundreds of police officers were hurt when riots flared during sporting celebrations for the Chicago Bulls.
A year later, when the Bulls triumphed again, there were more riots—this time four people were killed.
There was another riot in Grant Park when pop band Sly and the Family Stone cancelled a concert.
And a casual glimpse at the city’s crime log for the last 48 hours makes grim reading: three people shot and killed, one a boy aged 16; one man stabbed to death; a woman killed in a robbery; seven people leaving a nightclub injured in a drive-by shooting; police shoot and kill a man wielding a knife; three boys aged nine, 11 and 17 shot and injured in separate incidents.
Mayor Richard Daley has been criticised for failing to deter revellers from heading to the city centre without an event ticket, but he is hopeful the night will be peaceful.
“It’s going to be surprising, there are going to be a lot of people who want to come down to celebrate, we hope it’s a million or more, that’s realistic. It’s going to be wonderful,” he said.
But Kim Brehm, associate editor at the Southtown Star, said: “Whether earned or not, Chicago is known as a rough-and-tumble kind of town where anything can happen.
“Given our history, I hope to God we get it right this time.”