If there was ever a time of “honor” between rival street gangs – when children, women and others who weren’t part of any given turf battle were off limits for violence – those days are over.
“That’s what’s so scary about it. There was some sense that, ‘I’m not going to kill the innocent people in your family in trying to kill you.’ There doesn’t seem to be that – for the lack of a better term – courtesy,” Cook County Public Guardian Robert F. Harris told WBEZ on Wednesday. “It’s seemingly people who are out there who don’t have a real great respect for life.”
Harris was trying to make sense of Chicago’s latest loss of life in the seemingly never-ending cycle of gun violence that continues to make headlines nationwide.
“As tragic as it might seem, and it is tragic when you see a teenager, young person killed, it even brings it more to bear when you see a baby that’s shot like that. Whether she was targeted with her dad or not, I don’t know? But it does show that people have no respect for even the youngest among us,” Harris said.
The death of Jonylah Watkins is also a reminder that many victims of gun violence are innocent bystanders, perhaps none more innocent than the 6-month old infant.
A 2009 study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab concluded that one in five youths killed by gunfire in Chicago were innocent bystanders.
“The majority of the time it is people who are sort of involved in violence and crime already who are both victim and perpetrators but there is certainly a non-trivial number who are just happened to be in the vicinity when something tragic happens,” Roseanna Ander, executive director of the Crime Lab, told WBEZ.
Jonylah’s father, Jonathan Watkins, was changing her diaper Monday afternoon in the Woodlawn neighborhood in the front seat of his vehicle. That’s when an unknown gunman arrived, shot up Jonathan and struck little Jonylah with five bullets.
Jonylah died Tuesday and her father remains in the hospital for treatment to wounds to his buttocks and side and a graze to his face, police said.
Jonathan Watkins is a gang member with a long criminal history — including a three-year prison sentence on a weapons charge — and there is little doubt he was the target of the attack, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a news conference Tuesday hours after the infant died.
"He was obviously targeted," McCarthy said. "It was very clear that whoever was doing this was firing at the father and exclusively at the father who happened to be sitting in a minivan with the child."
The superintendent said the neighborhood where the infant was killed is the site of numerous gang conflicts, and that police saturated the area in the area Monday night "in the vicinity of the two gangs we believe to be involved in this conflict."
Monday's attack added to the grim roster of young children who have been gunned down, including a 7-year-old girl who was caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout while selling snow cones last summer and a 6-year-old girl killed a year earlier while sitting between her mother's legs on the family's porch.