Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. hopes the closure of the basketball courts at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park will prompt residents to start keeping a close eye on activity there when it reopens.
McDermott said Monday that he and the Hammond Parks and Recreation Department removed all basketball hoop rims — including the basketball tree, which young children use — from the newly renovated street park on Sunday. Lyons behind City Hall due to two shootings in 72 hours. The second shooting, which occurred around 7 p.m. on Aug. 13, killed 39-year-old Hammond resident Jullius Brooks, according to a statement from the Lake County Coroner’s Office.
Darren Adrian Ferguson, of Hammond, was charged Monday with murder and is being held in Lake County Jail without bail, court records show.
The first shooting, meanwhile, occurred around 7:55 p.m. on Aug. 11, Hammond police spokesman Lt. Steve Kellogg said in a statement. Officers who arrived at the scene found a victim who had been shot multiple times; Hammond paramedics stabilized him before transporting him to a Chicago hospital, where his condition remains unknown, Kellogg said.
Kellogg said a second victim went to an area hospital for treatment later that evening. McDermott said he believed two 15-year-olds were involved in the shooting.
McDermott said Monday that police have noticed a recent spike in violence at that park and are doing their best to enforce the curfew. An influx of people from Illinois to use the park may also be a contributing factor, he said.
“Hundreds of kids are out there every day playing and having fun — I know that, because I can see it from my office,” McDermott said. “Last week there was a very hot night and I kept debating whether to call (the police to enforce park hours). I felt bad.
“But now a man is dead, the shooter is going to jail and all the kids who weren’t causing any trouble can’t use the parks for as long.”
After spending an additional $3 million to add a walking path lined with King quotes, a wading pool, playground, exercise equipment, an Eternal Flame memorial to King, and the two full basketball courts and two half-courts, McDermott didn’t want to close anything. King was a great “champion of peace”, after all.
Precedent, however, can be essential to restoring them, and that’s where park residents come in, he said.
“You know all that graffiti and vandalism we had in Pulaski Park (in North Hammond)? I closed it for a month in June. Now we haven’t had any problems because neighbors call the police every time they see anything suspicious,” McDermott said. “Neighbors need to take ownership of the park as well, and I’m hoping for similar results for MLK.”
McDermott said he hasn’t decided how long the MLK courts will be closed.
Police are still seeking information about the Aug. 11 shooting and encourage anyone in possession to contact Det. sergeant. Rich Ray at (219) 852-2970 or Det. Lt. Mark Tharp at (219) 852-2988. Anyone with more information about the Aug. 13 shooting should call the Hammond Police Detective’s Office at (219) 852-2906.
Michelle L. Quinn is a freelance writer for the Post-Tribune.