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Bronzeville, Near South Side

If Chicago Police Wants Witnesses To Step Up, They Have To Protect Them, Activists Say

"We need to break the 'no snitching rule' in the hood, but we also have to consider what type of protection we're giving these families," one leader said.

Marlo Kelly, talks about the murder of her daughter, Treja, as a friend holds a photo of her.
Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
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BRONZEVILLE — When Marlo Kelly talks about her daughter, Treja, you can hear the pain in her voice.

Treja Kelly was gunned down in September in Back of the Yards, not too far from where she grew up. The pregnant teen was on her way home from her Walmart shift when, prosecutors have said, a 21-year-old man hired to kill her attacked her on the sidewalk.

Months earlier, Treja Kelly had testified against the man who had murdered her 17-year-old cousin. And for months leading up to the slaying of Treja Kelly, Marlo Kelly begged the Chicago Police Department to provide more protection for her daughter.

“Treja was my miracle baby. The Lord blessed me with her. [The police] should’ve given her the protection she needed to be safe,” Kelly said. “They knew these people were dangerous. They knew they were criminals. They did nothing.”

In a press conference earlier this week, Kelly and Joseph Williams, founder of the Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club, called on city and police leaders to fund a program to support and protect cooperating witnesses of crimes.

Over the years, several groups have called for the Police Department to offer stronger witness support, pointing out that departments in other cities connect crime witnesses to services such as mental health providers and safety buttons that, when pressed, send for officers.

Williams thinks a portion of the police budget should be set aside to launch those kinds of safeguards, as well as more drastic interventions such as relocating witnesses and compensating them for lost income, when necessary.

“We need to break the ‘no snitching rule’ in the hood, but we also have to consider what type of protection we’re giving these families — these families that have to share this information but stay in the same community as the person committing the crime,” Williams said.

On the state level, a Gang Crime Witness bill introduced by State Rep. Chris Welch (D-Hillside) passed in 2013 but was never funded, according to an October WBEZ report.

“We need all the support we can get to protect our babies. It could be your family, it could be your babies,” Kelly said, fighting tears. “We need this fund.”

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