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As Support Floods Into Highland Park, Chicagoans Facing Daily Violence Wonder: What About Us?

The July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park shocked the country. In Chicago, there can be multiple mass shootings in one month. “The trauma is real everywhere.”

Friends and family console each other at a balloon release memorial for Bobby Jones Jr., who was fatally shot in Wicker Park.
Noah Asimow/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — All that is left are tire marks at the scene of a drive-by shooting in Brighton Park on Chicago’s South Side.

Three miles south, one candle for an unknown victim has melted into the pavement.

In Englewood, kids walk past a memorial for a man gunned down by a playground.

The Fourth of July holiday weekend saw 60 people shot and eight killed in Chicago. In nearby suburban Highland Park, a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade left seven dead and 46 people shot or injured escaping the violence.

Condolences, memorials and millions of dollars in donations flooded in. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. JB Pritzker released statements of condolences. National news cameras filled the streets with 24/7 coverage, Vice President Kamala Harris visited and mental health services were announced for those impacted by the gun violence.

But only in suburban Highland Park.

Violence interrupters, shooting victims and loved ones of those who didn’t survive the weekend in Chicago said they’re troubled by the tragedy in Highland Park. But they wonder why help came in abundance only for an affluent, largely white suburb and not Chicago’s South and West sides, where predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods have been rocked by violence for generations.

“There is no governor speaking, no senator speaking and another en route” in Chicago, said Arthur Reed, executive director of the Second Chance Initiative, a violence intervention program on the South Side. “Every incident deserves this type of response.

“I wish that response was echoed in parts of the city. Because the trauma is real everywhere.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A memorial is set up at the corner of 65th and Wolcott, where a 31-year-old man was fatally shot on July 1, as seen on July 5, 2022.

‘Regardless Of Race And Class, This Issue Affects All Of Us’

There have been 1,525 people shot in Chicago this year as of July 1, according to police data. That’s down from 1,860 victims during the same time last year — but still up from before the pandemic, when violence surged. There were 1,172 shooting victims by July 1, 2019.

Murders haven’t dropped to pre-pandemic levels, though the numbers have improved from the pandemic high: 310 people have been killed in Chicago so far this year, compared to 344 people in 2021 and 247 in 2019, according to police data.

In Chicago, shootings and violence can feel anonymous and routine, said Terrance Henderson, a community outreach leader in Roseland.

“My general reaction to any violence is, ‘Wow.’ It gets you thinking about where the world is now,” Henderson said. “Working in a community where it happens a lot, we need people to have the same ‘wow’ factor [here]. … Regardless of race and class, this issue affects all of us.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Staff with Communities Partnering 4 Peace canvas the 7000 block of South Harper Avenue, where Demarcus BeBerry was fatally shot on July 3, as seen on July 5, 2022.

The violence in Chicago remains a heavy burden for victims, their families, neighbors and outreach workers.

On Tuesday, Meme Haynes carried items belonging to her brother, Dwayne Peterson, who was killed in a shooting July 3 in West Humboldt Park. He was a “sweetheart” who was slain on his 38th birthday, she said.

Nearby, neighborhood kids rode bikes and played on the sidewalk where Peterson had been killed.

Jennifer Medrano, 24, was in Chinatown on July 1 when someone shot and killed her. She was an “innocent bystander,” Police Cmdr. Don Jerome said.

A daytime shooting July 2 in South Shore left a 26-year-old man dead as he rode his bike near a busy bus stop. A woman who works on the block was there when it happened; a bullet tore through the store’s windows and shattered a glass display, cutting her knees. Another bullet went into the wall just a foot from where she was standing, she said.

It was the second shooting on the block recently, she said. There were kids outside watching as a life was taken. The violence is also hurting the small, Black-owned family business, she said.

A few days before, on June 30, Norvell Meadows, 19, an All-City basketball player, was shot and killed outside his grandmother’s home in Austin on the West Side. His mother, Octavius Morris, said she long dreaded the possibility of burying her son. 

“If you live where I live, it’s kids being shot every day. It’s senseless death all the time,” Morris said. “This country makes it too easy for children to get these guns.” 

After the Fourth of July holiday weekend was over in Chicago, the killing continued. Randie Binion-Morris lost her son Bobby Jones Jr., 28, when he was fatally shot outside a bar in Wicker Park Thursday. Jones leaves behind a 1-year-old daughter, Aziya.

“I have to come to the realization that this is the life we live in. You go out, you try to have a good time, and, you know, things happen. You gotta realize it could happen to anybody,” Binion-Morris said.

It could happen at a parade or in front of a bar or a park or while you’re at work or riding your bike.

Binion-Morris used to wonder how mothers felt when they lost a son to gun violence.

“Now I can tell you how I feel. And I wouldn’t want anybody to sit in that chair. To me, he was everything. That was my son. My firstborn,” she said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The playground and park at Arnold Mireles Academy, near where a 30-year-old man was fatally shot after midnight on July 2, as seen on July 5, 2022.

‘This Is An Issue Our Communities Have Been Dealing With For So Long’

The city has invested millions in violence prevention groups in recent years, and Lightfoot recently announced the city will give an additional $3.1 million to 12 nonprofits for mental health services. The state has also poured funding into community-driven anti-violence strategies, including $50 million under Pritzker’s administration this year.

Street outreach programs focus on preventing violence by connecting workers with real-life experience to people most likely to commit or be at risk for violence.

Henderson said he’s noticed the greater investment in street outreach work, which he’s done for 12 years.

The programs in Chicago have been effective in setting people on better paths, helping them advance their education, find jobs and seek help for the trauma of growing up around violence, Henderson said. 

RELATED: ‘West Side Neighborhood Sees 58% Drop In Shootings Thanks To Violence Prevention Programs, Outreach Workers Say’

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A man was fatally shot just before 1 p.m. Sunday in the 6500 block of South Kedzie Avenue, as seen on July 5, 2022.

The city’s also set up a Community Safety Coordination Center, an agency to coordinate violence prevention efforts between city agencies and neighborhood groups. Tamara Mahal, chief coordination officer for the center, said they are training 500 community workers in trauma intervention and connecting people to mental health services as a way to prevent and respond to violence.

The efforts are just scratching the surface — generational trauma, neighborhood disinvestment and easy access to weapons nationwide continue to fuel Chicago’s gun violence, Mahal said.

“We have a lot of deep-rooted causes that we can address,” Mahal said. “What happens every day in Chicago is we have a tremendous amount of guns and a tremendous amount of authority for people to come get them.”

Lightfoot has suggested more novel — and, often, controversial — measures for preventing violence, like suing gang members and moving the city curfew for youth from 11 to 10 p.m.

And officials, including Lightfoot and Pritzker, have repeatedly called for tough gun laws and for federal help with cracking down on gun crime in the city. The majority of “crime guns” taken in by Chicago police come from other states where laws are more lenient, according to a 2017 city study.

But after the Highland Park massacre, many politicians have focused their calls on banning high-powered rifles like that used by the gunman — while much of the violence in Chicago is perpetuated by people using handguns. Even then, calls for gun control have repeatedly failed after high-profile acts of violence.

Henderson said missing from the conversation about banning assault weapons is the proliferation of switches on handguns, which can rapid-fire rounds of ammo with limited precision, leaving innocent bystanders in harm’s way.

“Mass shootings can happen in Chicago at any time, because of this type of weaponry with the switches,” Henderson said. “We need to shed light on what’s happening here and ban these switches.”

Another issue, anti-violence experts said: Many Chicagoans are somewhat numb to the horrors of the violence because of its frequency. The Highland Park shooting was the first shooting there in decades; in Chicago, there can be multiple mass shootings just in the same month — in May, there were two in the same day. During another mass shooting in May, Chicagoans simply stepped over and through victims’ blood on the sidewalk.

“The reality of violence in Chicago is that there’s a desensitization,” Mahal said. “Because this is an issue our communities have been dealing with for so long.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Staff with Communities Partnering 4 Peace canvas the 7000 block of South Harper Avenue, where Demarcus BeBerry was fatally shot on July 3, as seen on July 5, 2022.

‘It Made Me Feel Like People Care’

Ultimately, to stop Chicago’s violence, more must be done to alleviate the structural causes of violence in underserved neighborhoods, like disparities in education opportunities, housing, health care and available mentors, Henderson said. 

These inequalities perpetuate cycles of violence, Reed said.

“If we can house and educate and train them, along with mental health services to change the norms for that person, I believe we can pull the great majority of these people out the streets,” Reed said. “The plethora of resources that are afforded to affluent communities, it’s sad that the South and West side doesn’t have the same access to resources.”

More professional counseling and trauma care are needed for the “hundreds of kids in our neighborhoods that seen people murdered,” Reed said. 

“On the South and West sides, we already don’t have a lot of hope and faith in the traditional mechanisms to help us. It further emboldens a person to say they don’t have anything to lose,” Reed said. “Either you become hardened or psychologically damaged. It’s senseless violence. It’s saddening and it’s scary all at the same time.” 

Their work continues. 

On Tuesday, violence interrupters with Communities Partnering 4 Peace filled the 7000 block of South Harper Avenue, where a 24-year-old man was shot and killed July 3. They wore neon shirts and passed out pamphlets with safety tips, hoping to make neighbors feel comfortable enough to come outside.

And Shabbir Martin, an outreach worker with the Southwest Organizing Project, stood Tuesday outside the site of a fatal shooting in Brighton Park. Nobody knew much about the victim, Martin said. The crime scene was gone.

Martin hopes the conversation around gun violence does not fade away, too. 

“With Highland Park, it made me feel like people care. They got out there and helped,” Martin said. “There needs to be more people stepping up in these communities, as well.” 

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A memorial is set up at the corner of 65th and Wolcott, where a 31-year-old man was fatally shot on July 1, as seen on July 5, 2022.

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