Gun Deaths In Chicago Reach Startling Number As Year Closes | KUOW News and Information

Gun Deaths In Chicago Reach Startling Number As Year Closes

Dec 28, 2016
Originally published on January 6, 2017 11:57 am

Fourteen-year-old Demarco Webster Jr. was helping his dad move to a new apartment a few months ago, when he was shot and killed.

His stepdad, Juawaun Hester, says they had intentionally waited to start the move until after midnight in order to avoid any trouble.

Hester says Demarco didn't even like going outside if he didn't have to.

"I don't understand man, and you know what's going on now is like the future children, the good children, the smart children, with scholarships and they're the ones who's dying to the gun violence," Hester says.

Hester says just one day after his stepson was killed, his neighbor's twin teenage boys were both fatally shot, too.

Two more deaths in what has been a very bloody year in Chicago.

The city has logged more than 700 homicides this year, more than any other major U.S. city

In September, the city surpassed last year's total of about 470 killings.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced the city would hire about 1,000 new people to work in the police department.

"These officers will be assigned directly to the streets of our communities," Emanuel says. "To work with residents in partnership to confront gun violence."

But many residents are skeptical that having more cops will stop the murders.

The Rev. Marshall Hatch has a church in Chicago's West Garfield Park neighborhood, one of the most violent in the city.

He says relations between the police and the community have deteriorated since late last year when a video showed a Chicago officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a young black man.

"They've seen it in their best interest to pull back and not be aggressive," Hatch says. "That probably has helped fuel a lot of the surge of violence that we've seen this year."

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said earlier this month that fallout from the shooting of McDonald has contributed to the spike in violence this year. But he says his officers are in a bind.

"They're cautious about the national narrative that's out there right now, so they're careful about how they do police," Johnson says. "But at the same time the biggest reason for this spike is because our repeat guys just don't fear the judicial system."

Johnson says Illinois needs tougher sentencing laws for repeat gun offenders.

And locking up gang leaders did help in the late '90s — the last time the city saw this level of killing.

But University of Illinois Criminologist John Hagedorn says that comparison is far from perfect.

"[In the late '90s], we were at the downward slope of organized gang wars that racked Chicago," he says. "Homicides were often called by leaders who were locked up in prison. They were intentional kinds of violence. Today the violence is spontaneous; it's local. The gangs are no longer structured and citywide. They are small cliques of kids. The reasons for the homicides are often insults, accidental events — very difficult kinds of things to contain."

Hagedorn says in the late 1990s Chicago police "cleared" about two-thirds of all the city's homicides — meaning they knew or thought they knew the culprit.

Now, the Chicago police only clear about a quarter of all killings.

"So we are dealing with a different kind of situation, which calls for some different policing strategies," Hagedorn says. "But mainly it should tell the city that is has to address the roots of desperation."

Kyisha Weekly knows that desperation.

Weekly says she tries hard not to think of her friend Candice Curry, who was shot and killed in a park when they were both 13 years old.

Curry was the victim of a drive-by-shooting on Aug. 10, 1998 in Bronzeville, according to a Chicago Tribune article published days after she was killed.

"She was at my house before she went to the park, and I was telling her to wait on me while I got dressed, and she just wanted to go to the park," Weekly says. "So I told her I'd meet her up there. And she went to the park and got shot."

Weekly says she remembers a group of boys from the neighborhood coming by her house and telling her Curry had been shot. At first, Weekly thought her friend would pull through, but Curry died that night.

Weekly remembers Curry as a pretty, fun-loving girl who liked to jump rope.

"Our favorite spot to go to was called Route 66. It was a skating place, and it was skating on one side and dancing on the other side," Weekly says. "So our parents used to think that we used to go for the skating, and we used to go for the dance part until one day my grandma came and picked us up and saw all the people and how rowdy they were. She was like, 'No, no, no, y'all can't come back up here."

Weekly says a few years after Curry was killed, a second member of the group, Charlene Johnson, was killed by another girl she had been fighting with over a boy.

Weekly says she has also lost a brother and a nephew to gun violence.

"I try not to think about it," she says. "Sometimes I drink a lot to not think about the stuff that has happened in my life."

Now, Weekly says she hardly goes outside, except to take her 3-year-old daughter to the aquarium or park.

"I love my baby. That's why you can't sit on the bus stop with your kids," Weekly says. "People getting shot, they're shooting women, it's out of control."

Despite the loss of her friend in 1998, Weekly says she is certain the violence is worse now. It was rare then, she said, for an innocent victim such as Curry to get caught in the crossfire. But not anymore.

"The gangbangers [in the '90s] used to make sure the kids were in the house before they started shooting, Weekly says. "They used to care then about kids, but now they just don't. It's the little kids. They'll be 13 or 14 years old with guns. If somebody looks at them wrong...they want to pull out their guns and start shooting. And it's like they're shooting with their eyes closed because they're hitting innocent people."

Member station WBEZ has been revisiting families affected by homicides in 1998, the last time the city suffered more than 700 murders. See more of their work here.

Copyright 2017 WBEZ. To see more, visit WBEZ.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Chicago passed a grim milestone recently. The city has seen more than 700 homicides this year, that's more than any other major U.S. city. Of course, that startling number does not begin to tell the whole story. As we're about to hear, each death reverberates in the lives of family and friends for decades. We begin with member station WBEZ's Miles Bryan.

MILES BRYAN, BYLINE: Fourteen-year-old Demarco Webster was helping his dad move to a new apartment a few months ago when he was shot and killed. His stepdad, Juawaun Hester, says they had intentionally waited to start the move until after midnight in order to avoid any trouble. Hester says DeMarco didn't even like going outside if he didn't have to.

JUAWAUN HESTER: I don't understand, man. And, you know, what's going on now is like the future children, the good children, the smart children with scholarships and they're the ones who's dying to the gun violence.

BRYAN: Hester says just one day after his stepson was killed, his neighbor's twin teenage boys were both fatally shot, too. Two more deaths in what's been a very bloody year in Chicago. The city surpassed last year's total of about 470 killings in September. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced the city would hire about a thousand new people to work in the police department.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAHM EMANUEL: These officers will be assigned directly to the streets of our communities to work with residents in partnership to confront gun violence.

BRYAN: But many here are skeptical that having more cops will stop the murders. Rev. Marshall Hatch has a church on the city's west side in one of the most violent neighborhoods. He says relations between police and the community have deteriorated since late last year, when video is released of a Chicago officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a young black man.

MARSHALL HATCH: They've seen it in their best interest to pull back and not be, you know, aggressive. That probably has helped fuel a lot of the surge of violence that we've seen this year.

BRYAN: Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says police are in a bind.

EDDIE JOHNSON: They're cautious because of the national narrative that's out there right now, so they're careful about how they do police. But at the same time, the biggest reason for this spike is because our repeat guys just don't fear the judicial system.

BRYAN: Johnson says Illinois needs tougher sentencing laws for repeat gun offenders. And locking up gang leaders did help in the late '90s, the last time the city saw this level of killing. But University of Illinois criminologist John Hagedorn says statistics can be misleading.

JOHN HAGEDORN: Today the gangs are no longer structured and city-wide, they're small cliques of kids. The reasons for the homicides are often insults, accidental events, very difficult kinds of things to contain.

BRYAN: Hagedorn says in the late '90s, Chicago police cleared about two-thirds of all the city's homicides, but now only clear about a quarter of them.

HAGEDORN: So we're dealing with a different kind of situation which calls for some different policing strategies, but mainly it should tell the city that it has to address the roots of desperation.

BRYAN: Seonia Owens knows that desperation. Owens is from Chicago's South Side, where her 15-year-old son was shot and killed nearly 20 years ago.

SEONIA OWENS: When you shoot that boy, you shooting that whole family. When put - take that one bullet, you have destroyed a whole family, might as well say you shot everybody.

GREENE: OK. A voice there capturing this difficult moment in Chicago, hitting 700 homicides this year. That story came from member station WBEZ's Miles Bryan.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

WBEZ has been revisiting families affected by homicides in 1998, that was the last time the city suffered more than 700 murders. Reporter Patrick Smith talked with Kyisha Weekly about her childhood friend Candice Curry. Candice was playing in a park that summer when a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting took her life.

KYISHA WEEKLY: I met her when she was 9 and we was friends. We instantly connected and, you know, everyday we used to hang together, go to school together. Her mother - we used to go to her momma house and, you know, jump rope in front of her house and...

CRISETTE: (Unintelligible).

WEEKLY: That's Crisette. This is my little baby, 3 years old. And our favorite spot to go to was the Route, it was called Route 66. It was a skating place. It was skating on one side and it was dancing on the other side. So my - our parents used to think that we used to go for the skate and we use to go for the dance part (laughter). And so one day my grandma came and picked us up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WEEKLY: Candice lost her life at that same - she came over, it was a summer day. She came over in the morning, we walked to the store, got our chips, juice, honey buns and orange juice. Came back and sat on my back for a little while. As we was talking and stuff, we were just sitting there talking and she said that she was ready to go to the park. And I told her to wait for me so I changed my clothes. And she said she was going to wait but then she got impatient and said she'll be back or meet her up there. I told her OK.

And it was like soon as she got to the park, somebody was driving by - they say they was doing a drive-by trying to shoot at somebody else and shot her. Some guys came - ran to my house and told me Candice got shot right as I was getting dressed finna (ph) go to the park. And I was tore, I didn't believe it, you know, but I didn't think that she would pass 'cause she only got shot under her arm. So, yeah, I was heartbroken. I try not to think about it.

CRISETTE: (Unintelligible).

WEEKLY: OK, Crisette. Yeah, it be - I try not to think about it. Sometimes I drink a lot to not think about the stuff that done happened in my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF GODSPEED

WEEKLY: There used to be a lot of shooting going on when I was growing up and you used to have to just sit on the floor, try not to get shot. Can't look out the window. It's way worse than that 'cause they be hitting innocent people.

CRISETTE: (Unintelligible).

WEEKLY: OK, baby. Love my baby, that's why I, you know, can't be - can't sit on a bus stop with your kids, people getting shot, women getting - they shooting women, everything and they just - it's out of control.

(SOUNDBITE OF GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR SONG, "EAST HASTINGS")

MARTIN: That was Kyisha Weekly talking about her 13-year-old friend Candice Curry, who was killed in 1998.

GREENE: Now, a few years after Candice's death, another teenage friend of Weekly's was killed and then her brother and then last year her young nephew.

(SOUNDBITE OF GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR SONG, "EAST HASTINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.