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Even the Cops at Riot Fest Think the Smoking Ban Is ‘Stupid’

Surprise: No one at Riot Fest cares much for the recently passed ban on smoking in public parks.

Smokers at Riot Fest are getting a pass on the new ban on smoking in public parks.   Photo: James Bernal

After the Chicago Park District voted to ban smoking in Chicago’s 580 public parks on Wednesday, the park district superintendent took only a few hours to reassure Riot Fest attendees that the ban wouldn’t really apply to them.

“People at Riot Fest this weekend, they don’t need to worry about…a man tapping on their shoulder and saying, ‘You’re under arrest,’” said Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly. “That’s not the point of this.”  

The three-day Humboldt Park festival kicked off yesterday, and as it was now supposedly the last festival that would be lax on ticketing smokers, I went to see what people thought of the ban. Short answer: it’s dumb. Even the cops think so.

“They banned it in the parks? Sounds pretty stupid,” said one cop, who asked to remain anonymous. “Isn’t the park open? You can’t smoke anywhere now.” When asked whether he would enforce the ban eventually, he said, “The only way I’d enforce it was if they were smoking weed. Because, you know, you have to set an example for the kids.”

A group of three security guards manning the fence at California and Division had not only not been briefed on the rule—they didn’t know it had even passed. “You can’t smoke in the park now?” one asked. “Is that because of the butts or something? I don’t smoke, but that’s bullshit. You’re outside. I mean, you shouldn’t be smoking in the kids part of the park, on the playground.”

Many Riot Fest attendees, both smokers and non, were equally mystified. I found Edgewater resident Robert Connaghan smoking outside the main gate and asked him his thoughts on the ban. “It’s a terrible idea, and severely constricting,” the 30-year-old said. “What’s the point of banning it outside? I don’t understand what the issue is. That was the point of banning it in restaurants. Where are we supposed to smoke now? If you’re gonna make it illegal, make it illegal. The voters didn’t even get a say.”

The ban applies to e-cigarettes and vaporizors as well, which upset Michelle B., 32, of Uptown. “I’ve been smoking the e-cigarette for a year. It’s the only thing that helped me quit smoking—I’ve tried everything, this is the only thing that worked. I haven’t had a cigarette in a year, and I have my nicotine concentration down to the lowest it can go. But now with the ban…I don’t understand. I would never smoke an e-cigarette in a five star restaurant, but it’s water vapor. Are we going to ban fog machines next?”

Riot Fest staff member Eddie Hernandez, 50 and a nonsmoker, said, “There should be no human being that can own the air. The water and the air belong to the people. Whether you smoke or not, that’s nobody’s business.”

And Stephanie, a 24-year-old Ukrainian Village resident, singled out one of the most common responses I heard: “I highly doubt the Chicago Police Department has time to worry about me smoking in a park.”

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