As Gov. J.B. Prtizker’s stay-at-home order enters its seventh week, house parties in defiance of the order, which prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people, are popping up all over the city, including on the West Side.
Footage of a block party that was held on April 25, at a townhouse on the 2000 block of North Narragansett Ave. in Galewood, went viral after one of the participants, a West Garfield Park woman who goes by the name of Tink Purcell on Facebook, live-streamed the party for 24 minutes. The video captures of a crowd of what appears to be at least 100 people.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the party was organized by Janeal Wright, the 26-year-old son of the building’s owner, Chicago Fire Department Commander Christine Matthews.
According to the TRiiBE, the party was held to honor two of Purcell’s friends who fell victim to gun violence in 2018. At the time, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. Pritzker both spoke out against the party and urged residents to follow the stay-at-home order to try to slow transmission of the highly contagious novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.
Since that April 25 party, the city has reported several more parties that have happened. On May 2, Lightfoot held a press conference in West Humboldt Park, in a block where the police received a tip that a party would take place, the mayor said.
Lightfoot held the press conference to warn would-be violators of the governor’s stay-at-home order that they face fines, tickets and possibly even arrest.
The mayor put the matter in life-and-death terms, saying that those who take part in the prohibited parties are endangering their older, more vulnerable loved ones and making the lockdown drag on for longer than it has to.
When it was enacted in late March, the stay-at-home order prohibited all non-essential activity, grounding many services that were not deemed essential (i.e. grocery stores, restaurants, public transit systems) to a halt.
On May 1, the governor eased that original restriction, allowing more businesses formerly deemed non-essential to reopen, with certain precautions, including the requirement that all residents wear face masks in public.
The new restrictions, however, do not permit the return of large gatherings, which have happened across the West Side at an alarming clip since the stay-at-home order took effect.
Last month, the Chicago Tribune reported that out of the 930 reported incidents of so-called “coronavirus loitering” in the early weeks of Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, between late March and early April, about 700 incidents happened on the West Side. Five-hundred incidents happened in the 11th District, while the 10th and 15th districts had 100 reported incidents each.
The Galewood party that Purcell videotaped garnered the attention of national media outlets such as TMZ and MSNBC.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Wright had a key to the property, with Matthews telling the paper that she had no idea that the party was happening until the police showed up at her door the following day.
“”I want to apologize to my neighbors and I saw the video,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Sun-Times. “I was completely blindsided. I would never condone this behavior. I am a paramedic. I have had people die from this!!!”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Matthews is currently one of the nine firefighters under a separate COVID-19-related investigation for participating in a video for the “Don’t Rush Challenge.” Participants of the challenge filmed a video of themselves inside of a firehouse transforming from firefighting attire into evening clothes and cocktail dresses. Chicago Fire Department policy does not allow filming inside of CFD facilities without the department’s permission.
Matthews said that racism has informed much of the reaction to the “Don’t Rush Challenge,” explaining that all of the women who participated in the video were black.
In a Facebook interview with state Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th), Wright said that he didn’t follow the news and didn’t realize why social distancing was important. He has since pledged to make up for his lack of awareness by getting the word out about the dangers of COVID-19 and encouraging his peers to get tested for the virus.
The TRiiBE reported that Purcell, a 26-year-old mother of two whose uncle died of COVID-19, wasn’t worried about contracting the disease.
“I’m not afraid of it,” she told the TRiiBE. “I mean, I know it’s serious. I had an uncle that passed away from it. But it’s like, I’m not letting my fear outweigh my faith.”
The online media outlet also said Purcell has been doing her best to comply with the stay-at-home order, but that she’s tired of being inside.
“Nobody looked sick,” she said. “Nobody acted sick. I know we weren’t really social distancing. It’s been two to three days now and I’m perfectly fine. They say wait seven to 14 days. We’ll see.
During her May 2 outdoor press conference in Humboldt Park, Mayor Lightfoot reinforced the warning that she’s been repeating since the COVID-19 crisis began.
“I can’t make this any clearer — you absolutely must stay at home,” she said. “And that means your home, not somebody else’s home, not at anAirBnB, not at some party place. Going to a party now, during this pandemic is the height of foolishness.”
Lightfoot emphasized that, while young people are less likely to get COVID-19 and to experience severe symptoms if they do, people under 60 have gotten sick and even died from the virus.
“You are risking the life of your mamma, your grandma who has an underlying condition; you are bringing death to your doorstep. Make no mistake about it,” Lightfood said. “And if you care about them, you will stop this foolish, reckless behavior. And that goes double for communities like this one, on the West Side, where we’re seeing a disproportionately large number of cases and, yes, deaths.”
Lightfoot doubled down on her law-and-order rhetoric, insisting that the “time for educating people into compliance is over.
“We will shut you down, we will cite you and, if we need to, we will take you to jail — period,” she said. If you refuse to do what is necessary to save lives in this city, we will take you to jail.”
David Brown, who was sworn in as Chicago police superintendent on April 22, said that, while he understood that the weather was warm and people have been cooped up inside of their homes for over a month, now is more important than ever to stay at home, particularly as hospitalizations and deaths continue unabated.
“We are aware of six parties tonight, and we’re reaching out to the hosts and advising them to cancel these parities,” Brown said, adding that, while they would rather simply fine or ticket participants, they do have the ability to arrest flagrant offenders of the stay-at-home order.
When asked about her tough stance on enforcing the stay-at-home order in communities like the West Side that are already over-policed, Lightfoot said: “This isn’t about over-policing. This is about saving lives. Period.”