The area surrounding Douglas Park in Rock Island has become so dangerous that Little League baseball players are giving up part of their season to find a safer place to play, league officials said.
Coaches and office holders from the Rock Island Little League held an “emergency meeting” this week to decide whether it is still safe to play games at the park at 18th Avenue and 10th Street. The result of the meeting was to suspend play until another park is found.
A Rock Island police officer and a Rock Island County sheriff’s deputy were among the parents who were coaching a game Tuesday night when shots were fired just outside the park. The shooters were aiming at three victims who managed to escape the gunfire, police said.
“Enough is enough,” said sheriff’s deputy and baseball coach Joel Keim. “We’re looking for other places to play. I grew up playing baseball down at Douglas. Now people don’t want to go down there.”
Rock Island County Deputy Coroner Brian Gustafson, who will take over as coroner this fall, was coaching the opposing team Tuesday and said that he agrees with the decision to relocate the children’s league.
“The safety of our kids is the most important thing,” he said.
Keim said that some parents and children did not know that the series of loud bursts outside the park were coming from a gun. Some, he said, assumed it was fireworks.
“We have 9-and-10-year-olds in the league and one kid asked, ‘Dad, was that gunfire?’” he said. “It hasn’t gotten better at Douglas. It’s nothing against the west end. We’ve got to do what’s best. We’re done.”
He said it is possible the league now will have to pay to lease a diamond for summer play, but said parents felt forced to make the decision to leave Douglas Park.
“A catcher wears a chest protector,” he said. “We’re not putting the other eight players in bullet-proof vests.”
Rock Island Police Capt. Scott Harris said that Little League officials have not yet contacted the police department, adding that shootings have occurred throughout the Quad-Cities this season.
“It’s unfortunate the violent society we live in, but do we close everything?” he asked. “That incident (Tuesday night) was the first shots fired call there this year.
“I certainly share their concern. One (shots fired incident) is too many. The double homicide we had (April 11) was just about three blocks one direction and a couple blocks in the other, so that may be adding to the concern.”
Renee Mosenfelder, president of the Rock Island Little League, said she preferred not to comment on the recent decision, saying the league’s future is still in the planning stage.
Rock Island Parks Director Bill Nelson said that he hopes part of the planning process will include reconsidering the decision to leave Douglas Park. He said the parks department provides an off-duty police officer for every scheduled game, adding that the only time a police officer is not present is for practices and unscheduled games.
He pointed out that, in Tuesday’s incident, the shooters were not targeting the park. He also said that his department and the league have been working together for more than a year to come up with a redevelopment plan for Douglas Park and he hopes the planning proceeds.
“I can understand people’s concerns and reactions,” he said. “I’m hoping folks will take a breath now, though, and think things through.”
Douglas Park is not the only public play area to experience recent violence.
In Moline, police found shell casings and a knife on the grounds at Garfield Elementary School, 1518 25th Ave., where students often use the basketball court and playground after school hours.
Principal Todd Williams said parents have been informed of problems there, along with efforts by the school to make the property safer. It is up to parents, he said, to make an informed decision about where their children are allowed to play.
Police Chief Gary Francque agreed.
“We have been having trouble there,” he said of Garfield. “There are gangbangers that hang around there. It’s quite a bit of difficulty for us to handle. We don’t have the resources to have people up there around the clock.
“I don’t know that it’s our role to advise people where kids should play. There’s danger and questionable people in every neighborhood.”
Barb Ickes can be contacted at (563) 383-2316 or firstname.lastname@example.org.