NORTH LAWNDALE — West Side residents are reckoning with the aftermath of two mass shootings that occurred just minutes apart and a few blocks away from each other Wednesday.
UCAN, Firehouse Community Arts Center and other nonviolence groups organized a peace march to bring the community together after the shootings.
The march is planned for 7 p.m. Friday at the intersection of Douglas Boulevard and Christiana Avenue.
Damarion Benson, 15, was killed in the first shooting, which happened about 6 p.m. Wednesday at Douglas Boulevard and Christiana Avenue, police said. Four others were shot, including a 16-year-old boy who was gravely wounded.
Benson’s mother told the Sun-Times her son loved his family and while he hung with the “wrong crowd,” he had a good heart and would help her navigate issues with her vision.
“I just want him to be remembered for his sense of humor,” she told the paper. “He was a genuine person. He’d do anything for you.”
The second shooting happened just minutes later at the intersection of Douglas and Ridgeway Avenues, wounding five people. A crowd was gathered outside Greater Garfield Park Missionary Baptist Church for a funeral and repast when the shooting started, witnesses said.
The services were for Tyrone Tousant, who was shot and killed July 7, said a neighbor who attended the service.
“When I left that service, I said, ‘I need to get out of here because I know something’s going to happen.’ … A lot of these guys were packing. It’s just a given fact. So I get out the way,” said the neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous.
The shooting that killed Tousant and the subsequent attack outside his funeral may have been “retaliation” for previous incidents of violence, the neighbor said. The shooters behind the attack need to be caught and held accountable, they said.
Reshorna Fitzpatrick, pastor of the nearby Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church, was outside planting flowers at the Love Blooms Here Plaza when she heard shots ring out a few blocks away. She froze for 30 seconds before finding cover.
“I saw young men just on the sidewalk shooting back and forth, back and forth. It was really a miracle that the young ladies I saw trying to run past weren’t hit,” Fitzpatrick said.
The teens who were part of the shooting appeared to be so wrapped up in the cycle of street violence and absorbed in trauma that “there wasn’t any remorse,” she said.
“They think that’s what they’re supposed to do. They really believe that,” Fitzpatrick said.
The pastor cautioned people shouldn’t “write them all off” because those youth have been conditioned their entire lives by trauma and disinvestment. But they still have the power to shape the future, she said.
“Everybody’s calling for them to put down the guns, but there are not resources. [They think,] ‘If I put down the guns, I’ll get shot. I’m still in this neighborhood. I don’t have a way of making money, taking care of myself,'” she said.
The community must “embrace them in a different way” to lead youth away from the conditions that perpetuate street violence, she said.
“The relationships are missing. Having conversations with them is missing. Trying to see what the problem is, is what is missing,” she said.
The violence stems from hopelessness and a mental disconnect from the consequences, said Phil Jackson, a pastor and founder of the Fire House Community Arts Center.
“There’s no respect for life. When there’s a loss of respect for life, then everything is everything. It is what it is. … You end up being part of it,” Jackson said.
Violence prevention groups like UCAN swung into action to restore stability and prevent retaliation in Lawndale following the shootings. The groups also offer counseling and family support to survivors, said Adrienne Johnson, vice president for violence interruption and prevention services at UCAN.
“We’re trying to figure out: How do we help their family? Because anybody who’s connected to somebody who was shot is affected,” Johnson said.
UCAN continued its regular violence prevention programs like Hoops in the Hood, which give youth positive activities to bond over, “because I think the community needs that right now,” Johnson said.
The community’s response to ending violence must continue to be “all hands on deck,” Johnson said. Everybody has to be invested in creating opportunities for young people to get out of violent situations and live up to their full potential, she said.
“Everybody is affected,” she said. “We’ve got to be mad that our babies are dying in the streets over senseless mess. And we got to hold people accountable.”
The march Friday is not only meant to memorialize the victims of the shootings, but also to engage residents in making Lawndale more peaceful.
“We still have to be mobilized on the ground to show people there’s still great things in North Lawndale. We’re a resilient people, and when you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut, which is what Wednesday felt like, you get up and you have to keep moving,” Johnson said.
This summer’s shootings cannot be allowed to derail efforts from residents to make Lawndale a safer and more prosperous place to live, Fitzpatrick said.
“I went to the garden today and I planted more flowers. This will not deter me in any way,” Fitzpatrick said. “If we continue to do our part … before you know it, these events will be history. You can’t let something cause you to retreat or withdraw.”
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