ENGLEWOOD — A community gripped with grief over the Saturday murder of 20-month-old Sincere Gaston has come together to take a stand against violence while calling for action Wednesday.
Sincere’s family was joined by community organizations — including Purpose Over Pain and Chicago CRED — for a vigil near 60th and Halsted streets, the intersection where the baby was shot to death Saturday, to honor the toddler “whose smile could light up a room.”
“If you do any kind of outreach, you always have that one participant who brings their child. This was the child,” said Kanoya Ali, a Chicago CRED mentor to Thomas Gaston, the baby’s father. “You have people who fed that child, who held him. That was our family.”
Gaston was overcome with emotion as he talked about watching his son grow, from getting his first tooth to taking his first steps.
“I used to be this bad person. He changed me,” said Gaston as his wife, Yasmin Miller, held him steady. “Now, my baby is gone.”
Sincere Gaston was the youngest of four children aged 3 or younger to be shot in a 10-day span in Chicago. The most recent was a 3-year-old girl, who was shot and critically wounded Tuesday in Englewood.
At Wednesday’s vigil and at an earlier press conference with politicians, people said the violence is rooted in toxic masculinity, systemic racism and disinvestment in Chicago’s Black communities.
Gaston and Miller criticized the Police Department for insensitive behavior in the hours after Sincere’s murder. Miller said the police pressed her for a story and refused to let her see her son’s body until she showed identification, which Gaston was forced to retrieve from his wife’s car.
“We are not pleased with the way you treated us. We just lost our baby. How could y’all treat us like this?” Miller said, fighting back tears. “We need y’all help. We need y’all. They’re killing our babies out here.”
Gaston’s other mentors, Steve Gates and Craig Nash, stressed the need for older male neighbors to reach out to their younger counterparts, saying toxic masculinity — an attitude of manliness that glorifies aggression and lacks empathy — is often the root of violence.
“Y’all got nephews [who] you know need help. You’ve got brothers, you’ve got sons. Call them,” Gates said. “Before you pick up a gun, pick up the phone.”
“There’s no honor in taking the life of innocent people. There’s nothing ‘gangsta’ or cool about that,” Ali said. “And to the person who did this, I guarantee that for the rest of your life, you’re gonna regret this day.”
Earlier Wednesday, members of the Joint Caucus of Black Elected Officials gathered for a press conference a block away, unveiling what they consider “a comprehensive plan” to stop the shootings plaguing parts of the city.
Part of the plan involves reestablishing the state’s African American Family Commission, which was disbanded in 2015 due to a lack of funding. The commission would create solutions to address the racial inequity in health, education and economic opportunities.
And on the federal level, the Urban Progress Act — a bill introduced by Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) — would provide communities with sustainable economic development by expanding the social safety net, from preserving rental housing assistance to giving grant money to states for youth summer employment programs.
The caucus also hopes to strengthen the Chicago Police Department’s witness protection program so residents feel safe enough to speak up, said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), echoing the call local activists made last week.
RELATED: If Chicago Police Wants Witnesses To Step Up, They Have To Protect Them, Activists Say
Dowell, who was joined by Ald. David Moore (17th) and Rep. Sonya Harper (D-IL), said the group wants to ensure violence intervention organizations are funded on the city and state level.
“It’s not just about social services, but it’s also about ways we increase business development, job development, ways to put money in their pockets on a sustained basis,” Dowell told Block Club. “All of these pieces form a comprehensive plan so that we can take our community out of the intensive care unit.”
Moore praised Kelly’s efforts to strengthen gun control laws.
“All these AK-47s coming into the community … somebody knows who doing it, someone at a high level,” said Moore, who met with the family of the 3 year-old girl shot Tuesday evening as she played with relatives in a yard in West Englewood.
“People do care about Black lives. We have activists that stand up every day. We are out here. But at the end of the day, this is all from systemic racism.”
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