CHICAGO — On Saturday afternoon, someone shot into a car without even knowing for sure who was inside. Hours later, gang members fired down a darkened alley at rivals who were near a house a block away.
The first shooting killed a 20-month-old boy in the back seat. The second hit a 10-year-old girl playing with her 8-year-old cousin in the front room of the house. It was the second straight weekend of children getting caught in gunfire in Chicago, and both the mayor and the police superintendent were clearly frustrated over what to do to curb the gun violence that has raged for nearly two months.
Police Superintendent David Brown spoke of clearing corners of drug dealers and announced 1,200 more officers would be on the streets for the Fourth of July weekend, typically the most violent time of year in Chicago. But that number is down from the 1,500 officers deployed a year ago, and Brown said he wants to curtail overtime to give his officers a break.
“I struggle to make sense of the reckless gun violence that continues to take the lives of our young people,” Brown said at a news conference at police headquarters. He mentioned several times that he has been on the job just eight weeks.
Hours later, Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke of finding ways to reach those behind Chicago’s violence.
“It’s not enough for a mayor or a police superintendent or city government,” Lightfoot said. “Each of us has to ask ourselves, what more can we do every single day in our lives to wrap our arms around these children? And I don’t mean just the victims, I mean the shooters as well. What do we need to do to reach them, to give them hope and love and have them recognize the sanctity of human life?”
Chicago’s killers, she added, “aren’t strangers coming into our communities.”
The cases of the two slain children illustrate how difficult it is to reach those committing the kind of reckless actions that killed Sincere Gaston in his parents’ car and Lena Marie Nunez in her home.
Police say a gunman apparently believed Sincere’s father was in the car when he opened fire at least seven times from a gray Infiniti around 2 p.m. Saturday in Englewood. Lena was hit by a bullet fired down the alley by gang members who missed the rivals they were shooting at.
“You have a 1-year-old and a 10-year-old killed for no reason at all,” Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan said, appearing with Brown. While detectives had descriptions of cars used in the attacks, no one was in custody.
Orlando Mayorga, the director of reentry services at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, works everyday with both victims and offenders. They are from neighborhoods that have long suffered from neglect and lack of resources, and they are often burdened by their exposure to violence and poverty.
“There is a lot of hurt there,” he explained. “There is a lot of childhood trauma that one has to peel back and work through to get to that core person. I don’t think a person is born with an idea they want to hurt people.
“It begins with not valuing yourself,” he said. “Because in the moment, those moments that can either cost your life or another person’s life, it’s almost like consequences become a far thought in our minds. Until after the fact.”
While Brown spent much of his news conference calling for stricter enforcement of gun and drug laws — repeatedly referring to shooters as “evil bastards” — he also acknowledged how hard it is to police the problem away.
“That’s why they’re there — to feed their families,” he said. “It’s a bad choice. But without the help of mentors in my neighborhood, I would have been one of these kids.”
Brown called himself a “community policing person,” and said he believes officers who arrest young people need to use the ride to jail as an opportunity for mentoring. “We have to offer them options,” he said. “If we say, ‘Get off the corner and stop the behavior of selling drugs, carrying a gun,’ we have to be able as a city to say, ‘And let me introduce you to an option that will help you provide for your family.’”
Still, Brown said he believes too many people arrested on drug and gun charges are being released on low bonds or on electronic monitoring — a criticism several of his predecessors regularly voiced. He called drug dealing and possessing guns “precursors to violence.”
“When they have no consequence, violence continues,” he said. “Our endgame is arrest. … Every day we’re going to be clearing corners, every day we’re going to be clearing these drug corners to protect these young people from violence.”
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, an outspoken supporter of bail reform, later released a statement saying that “public safety remains our top priority. We will continue to focus our attention on violent crime, and prosecuting those when an arrest is made by law enforcement.”
She added that it is “critical that we continue to work collaboratively with our law enforcement, community, and justice partners at the city and county for a fair and equitable criminal justice system.”
Lightfoot spoke of longer-term solutions, like investment in neighborhoods, as she described her “incredible sense of dread, incredible feeling of despair because of the weekend violence.”
“What causes me the greatest heartache as a mayor, as a mother, just as a human being, is seeing our babies being killed — 1-year-old, 17-year-old, 3-year-old. A 10-year-old,” the mayor said. “This can’t be who we are as a city. … Dear God, and dear Chicago, we have to do better than what we’re seeing.”
She spoke at a news conference where she unveiled grants of $4 million to a community group in Auburn Gresham on the South Side and $7 million to another in North Lawndale. Both communities are racked by gun violence.
In the first six months of the year, Chicago has experienced a sharp spike in shootings and homicides over the same time last year.
Through last Sunday, the city saw a jump of more than 25% in the number of homicides, reaching 295, which is 60 more than the same period a year ago, according to a review of crime statistics. Ninety-six of those occurred during a 28-day stretch that covered most of June, the statistics show.
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With the prospect of a long and violent weekend ahead, the city plans to deploy 1,200 more officers to “hot spots” from Thursday through Sunday. Yet Brown said he was apprehensive about asking officers to work more overtime.
“There’s a limit to how many hours people can work,” he said. “I’ve been a cop (for) 33 years. Tired cops make mistakes. This is not the time to make mistakes as a cop.”
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