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Incident at Gordon Park Pavilion

by Nik Kovac, photo Vince Bushell

If your living room won’t fit 75 people, but you need to host a party that big, one local option since 2002 has been the pavilion in Gordon Park, just west of the river and south of Locust Street. “That first year,” recalled Riverwest County Supervisor Willie Johnson, “it generated more revenue than we expected. It’s always been a wellused facility.”

This is not surprising to Guy Taylor, north region director for the county park system. “On the whole north side,” he observed, “the only other similar facilities are at Dretzka Park and at Jacobus Park, and those are harder for a lot of people to get to.”

When the RNA (Riverwest Neighborhood Association) tossed around the idea of having one of their summer meetings on a weeknight at the Gordon Park Pavilion, Taylor immediately warned them that they better call ahead to attempt a reservation. “It’s pretty well booked,” he told the group during its May meeting inside the gymnasium at Fratney Street School.

Taylor attended that meeting at the request of Johnson in anticipation of questions about the pavilion’s safety, not its availability. Such concerns were thrust into the forefront of many neighbors’ minds by the tragic events of Saturday, April 28.

That night, 19-year-old Marques Fabian attended a “Sweet 16” birthday party for one of his friends from the COA (Children’s Outing Association) at the Gordon Park Pavilion. “It was going all good, like a party’s supposed to be,” remembered Marques’s 17- year-old brother, Lewis, “and just like that, it got bad. Out of nowhere, people started fighting.”

The fight apparently started because a 15-year-old girl was dancing with one of Marques’ friends. The tension-filled teens quickly left the pavilion, where the shouting and the fighting continued outside in the park and then southward down Humboldt Avenue.

“There were like 200 16-yearolds hanging out,” recalled Luke Wellskopf, who lives directly across Humboldt Boulevard from the pavilion. “I could see the fight heading down the street. I should have called the police before I heard the gunshots.” Wellskopf believes he might have saved Marques’s life if he had done so.

Lewis is kept up at night now by similar thoughts. Whoever fired the gunshots, thinks Lewis, was not trying to hit anyone, but to break up the fight. “When people hear shots,” he said, “they scatter. Everybody knows that.”

Marques had been trying to break up the fight by more peaceful means. He knew just about everybody involved, some from COA and some from his neighborhood near Weil and Chambers. “I ain’t never met anybody that didn’t like him,” observed Lewis of his older brother. “You know how babies cry when they see certain people? They laugh when they see him.”

Indeed, Marques was remembered by many as a jokester and as a peacemaker. “He was like a brother to me,” said his 18-yearold cousin, Amanda Fabian. “He used to come by our house everyday [near Richards and Burleigh] and rib me and stuff. I miss that. He was always making people laugh. He kids around, but he gives respect. That’s how his mamma brought him up.”

“Out of all the kids, he was known for being a really easy-going guy,” recalled Kari Nervig, the youth development director at COA. “You couldn’t razz him. He was goofy but even-keeled.”

“This was a good kid,” Terry Tunks told the RNA’s May meeting. Tunks is the director of COA’s Riverwest Center on Garfield Avenue, which Marques would visit nearly everyday, along with several of his siblings and cousins. “Grownups invited him to their house, because he was so outgoing and trustworthy,” continued Tunks. “He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

It was not the gunshots that killed Marques. He was run down more than a block south of the pavilion, near Center Street, by a 15-yearold boy who later told police it was an accident, that he was just trying to flee the gunshots himself.

The incident made city-wide headlines, becoming yet another example of senseless violence in Milwaukee, during a three-week span when a 4-year-old was shot and killed while jumping rope on a sidewalk three miles to the west, near 29th and Locust, and a 13- year-old girl was shot in the face just two miles to the west, on 12th and Hadley, by a stray bullet while she looked out her window. “It took for us to lose people,” reflected Lewis, “just to stop losing people, but it shouldn’t have to take that. Anybody could have seen all this before. I see people firing guns all the time around here.”

Lewis thinks the four security guards who were inside the pavilion that night, patting teens down on their way in, should have followed the fight outside. He also thinks the guards might have been able to do more if they were armed themselves. “Why don’t they have guns?” he asked. “Or else the cops need to be there.”

The issue of how to supervise teenage parties at the pavilion has since become a hot topic amongst residents on Humboldt Boulevard, who live across from or next to the park. “It’s definitely an ongoing problem,” Wellskopf told the Currents, when we knocked on his door. “They don’t seem to regulate who’s there. It’s really just awful because it’s such a great space for the community, but it gets ruined with the high school stuff. There’s always problems with the high school kids.”

Mike, who didn’t want his last name published, lives a few doors down and agrees. “Lots of times it’s a normal party with adults,” he said while doing yardwork. “But it’s the kids, the young kids, that cause trouble.”

Mike’s neighbor, Dan (who also wanted his last name out of the paper), has lived across from Gordon Park for six years, and says, “There’s 1 or 2 major incidents every summer.” Last summer someone was stabbed inside the pavilion, several neighbors recalled.

“It’s off and on all summer,” shrugged Mike. “Sometimes it’s entertaining, sometimes it’s a nuisance. It would be better if they had more supervision, but you can’t close it. Then what happens? Empty space.”

County Supervisor Johnson agrees. He doesn’t want to see the county lose its $60 / hour rental revenue from the pavilion, but he also doesn’t want phone calls from unhappy constituents. Since the 28th, his office has received about a half dozen complaints. “People are saying,” he told the Currents, “there’s a lot of noise associated with these events. There needs to be a toning down. There’s got to be noise control, whether it’s a wedding reception or a birthday party.

Kenny Baldwin has lived right next to Gordon Park for eight years, just south of the pavilion, and he has a message for Johnson. “Whatever it is they’re renting it out for,” he complained, “it’s not appropriate. There isn’t a single County Supervisor who would put a disco next to his house.”

Next door to Baldwin is John Gonzales, who first said of the pavilion, “Get rid of it. There’s always trouble.” After talking it through awhile, however, Gonzales conceded that increased supervision might work, but he was still doubtful. “What happens then in a year?” he asked. “When the county employees forget what happened and it just goes back to the way it was, with a full parking lot every night and so many people cruising on Humboldt that you can’t even cross the street.”

Of the dozen or so nearby neighbors that the Currents talk to this month, about half said they had no complaints with noise or trouble from the pavilion, but those who did complain did so passionately.

“Almost every time it gets out of hand,” said Joe Thompson. “Half the time I call the cops. Usually it’s loud, but I wait until something happens to call. Something needs to change.”

“I don’t mind the noise,” said Wellskopf. “They can party all night as long as it’s safe, but now [since the 28th] I’m calling in noise complaints. I try not to be a nosy neighbor, but they’re forcing me to.”

Nearly everyone agrees, however, that noise problems have lessened since the 28th. This could be because partygoers themselves are being more cautious, or because the County has enforced the rules more vigilantly, or might just be a coincidence.

“Remember,” cautioned Baldwin, “the summer hasn’t really even started yet.”

There is evidence, however, that park employees have lately been keeping a closer eye on the pavilion. The weekend after Marques died, a party there was broken up and everyone sent home early because the permit holder – who must be over 21 – was not present.

“There is a night patrol,” explained Laurie Panella, the County’s Chief of Recreation, “which opens the building and which checks in at various points.” There is not, however, a county employee assigned specifically to the pavilion whenever it is rented out. They have other rounds they have to make throughout area parks.

According to Panella, there is no specific policy of required adult to child ratio for pavilion parties, unless they are designated as a “teen party.” In that case they must have at least one privately hired security guard for every ten teenagers present. In the case of “family birthday parties,” however, the requirements are more informal, and the parks employees try to get a sense of what kind of party it will be through a series of questions.

“We ask if they’ll need tables and chairs,” said Panella, “and if they’re bringing in a sound system.” In other words, they try to discern if it’s a sit-down event or a dance party.

“If there are concerns,” Panella continued, “we will try to work through the issues.” She said they will also “flag” certain events which they feel might need extra supervision. The pavilion’s schedule of rentals, including any “flags,” are regularly shared with the Sheriff Department’s Targeted Neighborhood Initiative.

County Supervisor Johnson encouraged all neighbors to always dial 911 in an emergency, but to call the Sheriffs’ communication division at 278-4788 if there is a less immediate circumstance at the park which requires attention. “There is always a desk captain at that number,” he told the RNA, no matter what time you call, day or night. For Johnson, making the Gordon Park Pavilion safe and enjoyable for everyone took on an added poignancy after the tragic events of the 28th, because he knows Marques Fabian’s Godmother.

Lewis, meanwhile, thinks back on that night and wishes it had gone differently, that it had been him instead of Marques in front of the car. “We ate off the same plate, slept in the same room every night,” he said. “Monday through Friday, he would be talking to his babymamma on the phone while I’m talking to my girl, and then we’d fall asleep. I’d rather it have been me, because I’ve got nothing to lose. I don’t have a family of my own like he did. I know how it feels to grow up with no father. I’m tired of seeing everybody live without a father. I wish they could have thought about this stuff before they do this.”

Marques is survived by his mother, Helen Fabian, and step-father, Lewis Fleming, by his eight-month-old son, Marques, Jr., and by the boy’s mother, Carnika Reed, as well as by a close-knit group of siblings, step siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, most of whom lived in Riverwest and all of whom still act as one big family.

Riverwest Currents online edition – June, 2007