A plan to control rowdy behavior near Evanston Township High School drew fire from some residents Monday night who voiced fears it would target people who look like them.

George Mitchell of the NAACP.

A plan to control rowdy behavior near Evanston Township High School drew fire from some residents Monday night who voiced fears it would target people who look like them.

Despite the objections, the Human Services Committee voted 3-2 to support the plan and sent it to the full City Council for action next Monday.

The proposal would implement a state law that makes people subject to arrest for criminal trespass if they enter a safe school zone after having been given written notice by school officials that they’ve been barred from the property.

The provision can be applied to suspended or expelled students as well as other persons. But the law exempts persons engaging in constitutionally protected free speech activity or union activity.

“We all really want safe schools and some way of defining what is safe,” said George Mitchell, president of the local NAACP chapter, “but we don’t want to open the door for overzealous people to be abusive.”

The proposed intergovernmental agreement between the school district and the City of Evanston would extend the safe school zone boundary from the edge of school-owned property to the far edge of the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street.

Betty Ester.

Betty Ester, who lives across from ETHS at 2031 Church St., said, “As soon as I come down off my steps, I’d be in a safe school zone. That’s infringing on my rights.”

She suggested that if the zone is implemented, children would be harassed by police and claimed, “We haven’t had kids being shot or people running around. Most of the shooting has happened late at night when kids should be home.”

But ETHS Associate Principal Vernon Clark said, “I’m outside after school almost every day holding onto every breath hoping that nothing happens.”

Associate Principal Vernon Clark.

Gesturing toward other school officials in the room, Clark said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and Security Chief Sam Pettineo are out there too.

Clark said the school zone agreement is needed because, “Now, we’re not able to move people along when they hang around the school.”

“This isn’t about trying to profile, it isn’t about trying to get people into trouble. It’s about safeguarding the 3,000-plus kids who come to ETHS every single day,” Clark added.

The two aldermen whose wards border the school both complained that school officials had failed to sell the program to neighbors.

“I’m supportive of giving you whatever it takes to make kids safe,” Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said. “But it’s irresponsible to shove it down residents throats without even a conversation with them.”

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said the school mainly borders “people who look like me, and I think people are very concerned.”

“A lot of those kids that stand across the street from the school at Davis and Dodge are ones who’ve come back early from the alternative schools we sent them to.”

“I’m not against giving you tools,” Holmes added, “But let’s understand what the tool is going to do first.”

But Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said kids need to feel safe when leaving school, that situations won’t get out of hand and that there are adults on hand they can turn to. “The adults need to have the tools needed to make sure there’s security,” Fiske said. “I’m in support of this. The overriding issue is keeping kids safe.”

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said she favored the plan as well and added that parents and guardians needed to be held responsible for he actions of their children. “The police can’t be on every corner and security guards can’t be at every locker and hallway.”

Alderman Mark Tendam.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said he wanted to send the propsal on to the City Council. “A broader community discussion can take place there,” he said, adding that if the plan is adopted next week, “we can start the new school year with something in place that gives confidence to students and school officials.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Exit through the rear of the school

    If you want your kids to be safer than the chaos that occurs every day in front of ETHS after school, have them leave through the back… it's what I had my kids do for the past 12 years.

  2. Move them along

    It is about time this safe zone was implemented. There are just too many kids standing around, snarling traffic and engaging in general foolishness after school. Trying to drive in the area after school lets out is extremely difficult at best. Move them along so that they can go home. If they want to hang around the school after classes, then they should get involved in an after-school activity.

  3. If you haven’t been banned

    If you haven't been banned from the school you have absolutely nothing to worry about. It says you will be charged with criminal trespassing if you've already been banned.

    This is finally a step in the right direction to do something about a problem area around the high school. I don't understand why Ms. Ester who lives across the street from ETHS believes she will have her rights infringed upon.

    If she has not been barred from the high school nothing in her everyday life will change. This is simply a tool to help move along people who have received written notice to stay away from the school.

    I am a black resident of Evanston who lives in the 5th ward near the high school and with this law in place I am still free to walk on the sidewalk bordering ETHS. The only people this law will affect are those who are already not allowed on school grounds.

    Kids being harassed by police is a silly argument as they are not being harassed now standing on the school grounds side of the street what makes people against this law think all of a sudden they are going to be harassed after crossing the street.

    Ms. Ester said “late at night kids should be at home" the keyword being "should." The reality is there are plenty of kids that are not and if the 5th ward is ever going to get any better, citizens need to understand changes have to be made. Something needs to be done and this law is better then doing nothing…

  4. Most people who look like me probably support this (I’m white)

    Most of the violent crimes around the high school are committed by folks who look like Delores Holmes and Peter Braithwaite. Don't believe me? Check the police reports. 

    Take it from another perspective. The victim who was slashed by a robber after dropping off his kid at ETHS looks like many of the folks that are at the high school – white. The robber who has been arrested looks like, well, Holmes. That same day several shots were fired across from the high school as school let out. 

    I want ALL kids at the high school to be safe. Why in the world doesn't Holmes, Braithwaite and the NAACP?

    If Holmes, Braithwaite, the NAACP and so on want to play the race card then so be it. There are two sides of the race card. 

    Kudos to Fiske and Burrus for speaking the truth with a meaningful response. Once again, Tendam straddles along the fence with meaningless political rhetoric. 


  5. 4 p.m. is still school time

    One young man was arrested for shooting a gun at 4 p.m. across from the high school. With all the after school programs and sporting events, 4 p.m. is still school time.  I support whatever measures we can to keep all Evanston students safe. All color of children are at risk in our school and I don't want it anymore!  Someone give Mr. Clark and all the other administrators willing to take action a raise!

  6. Safety for all

    About a year ago, I was helping my 8-year old do homework at Boocoo (Northeast corner of Church and Dodge) while we waited for my oldest son to finish his after-school activity.

    It was about 3:30 p.m. when a huge ugly fight started right on the sidewalk in front of Boocoo. Some brave dad stopped his car to try to break up the fight and the Boocoo manager called the police right away.

    By the time police arrived, only a handful of the teenagers involved in the fight remained. According to the manager and other witnesses, this happens on a regular basis. Unfortunately, a relatively small group of students makes it very unsafe for all. Kudos to the authorities for trying to implement a plan that could make all kids safer.

    I am not trying to be unreasonable, but neighbors have to understand that this is done for the greater good. It would be the equivalent of moving close to an airport and then complain about the noise!

    The security team has my support!

  7. What “right” would be infringed upon?

    If you're not doing anything wrong, why on God's green earth would you not want a safe zone around the school and/or close to your home?

    What "right" would you want to partake in that you could not? Just silly! Thank God most people have a good sense about this! This is great and hope we continue to get safer/smarter and the bad guys take it some where else.

  8. Race

    I watched the discussion of this issue on TV last night and unfortunately it went as I would've predicted.

    It's time for the African American Community to give up just a bit of its defensiveness about problems that exist around the High School. If the majority of problem folks are black, that is not an indictment of the community. It's time The African American community need not feel defensive about some of its rotten apples. I think the sooner we get beyond that, the sooner those rotten apples will begin to experience the inappropriateness of there behavior.

    If I were a bad guy watching the discussion last night, I would feel supported and I know that's not what all those the spoke for or against want, but it is the unintended consequence.

    In Chicago, communities around problem school locations are often asking to extend safe school boundaries. Only in Evanston, the African American Community sees this as a threat. 

    Race is not the issue, unacceptable behavior is the issue, if those participating in such behavior are black, so be it, if they are white, so be it, or if they are brown, so be it.

    Can't we move beyond this.

    Everything is not black or white.

    1. Yes

      Well said. I, too, don't care what race the troublemakers in this town are. I just want them to be stopped. All options must be on the table.

    2. Help inform the confused neighbors

      It might help if someone took a little time and sat down with the people that are against the safe zone.  In a different maybe less intimidating setting.  Get courious with them and get them to speak about "why" they are opposed.  It can't possibly have anything to do with not wanting kids or their area safe.  It's probably a deeper, older issue and they may just need a little assurance that no one is doing this to them!  A little communication may go a long way and it is what is needed and would help support the community as a whole all the way around.  Don't ya think?

  9. It is easy for outsiders

    You have to take it with a grain of salt when neighborhood outsiders like George Mitchell come to City Council to speak for the residents.  

  10. Is this like a gun free zone?

    It is well past time for people to take ownership of the community and point fingers. The vow of silence is not working.

  11. Safe Zone is common sense and color blind in this case

    I'm a AA parent. I suspect that there aren't many AAs that oppose the implementation of the Safe Zone. The AA community rightfully is upset about the Zimmerman verdict and perhaps a few of us misunderstand the Safe Zone law to be used near ETHS.

    Thus Mr. Mitchell's remarks, which are still perfectly consistent with the implementation of the Safe Zone. There are kids that don't live in Evanston that come back nearly daily contribute to an unsafe environment the school and community needs tools to address thst issue.

  12. Exit through the rear of the school is not always an option

    Exit through the rear of the school doesn't work if your ETHS student is taking the PACE bus home, or if your student lives directly east of ETHS, as our family does.

    Those who fear profiling might bear in mind that it takes a process to be excluded from a safe school zone. I rather doubt Betty Ester is ever "up to no good". She's not going to trigger that process, so her rights will not be infringed. And she may, in fact, end up with a safer sidewalk than the resident who lives a block or two away from ETHS.

    1. Sad state of affairs

      It's a sade state state of affairs when a high school student must leave school thru a back door in order to avoid danger.

      Why would I send my kid to ETHS or even move to Evanston? And to add salt to the wound, my property taxes keep going up.

      We need new leadership in Evanston and Illinois that honestly addresses the serious problems..

      1. Sad but not new

        I attended a Chicago public high school in the late 70s and not infrequently had to leave by way of a door that was the "other side" of school from the direction I was headed because of gang activity outside my usual door.

        The beauty of the school was that it combined a gritty neighborhood dynamic with a wide array of academic and extracurricular activity inside the building.

        Part of the reason we moved to Evanston was because ETHS reminded us of this school.  Shouldn't my ETHS student learn how to navigate the urban reality outside at the same time he takes AP courses and participates in fine arts and sports?

        I fully support the safe school zone, and I trust that if immediate neighbors feel school personnel are banning people inappropriately, we'll all hear about it quickly and staff will have to answer to the entire community.

  13. What do the opposers propose?

    To the people who do NOT want to expand the safe zone, what do you suggest then?

  14. Like New Trier

    Can’t we implement something similar to what New Trier does?

    Seems very safe around there.

    1. Evanston is not Winnetka

      Mike, IT IS very safe around there, but Evanston is not Winnetka.  There are no gangs north of Isabella street (the border of Evanston and Wilmette).  The NIMBY liberals who populate Wilmette, Winnetka, Kenilworth and Glencoe (lets end at  the Cook/Lake County border) are all for affordable housing.  As long as it's built in Evanston.  And they do a very good job of getting it built here.   Land is too costly in their communities, they tell us.  But at least they can brag about all the good work they do for the poor (in our back yard, that is).

      Even in Evanston, we have sections of town that are immune to having low cost housing built in their NIMBY communities.  Look at the vacant Kendall property.  The city council did not require the developer to devote any housing units or a monetery contribution for low income housing when they changed the zoning of that property  even though they passed an ordinance requiring any new multi unit construction to have set aside units for the poor (wealth does have its priveleges). 

      Evanston is not the gateway to the Northshore.  It is the bottom end of the Northshore. 

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