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Violent Year Especially Dangerous For Chicago’s Youngest Children

The loud bang created when a construction crew dropped a slab of metal rang through Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood like a gunshot. 

The sound -- all too common in the South Side community -- startled 6-year-old Tacarra Morgan.

Less than six months earlier, a bullet ripped through her stomach when gunfire erupted as she sat on her front porch with her mother and grandmother.

That shooting, on a hot July 19 afternoon near 60th Street and Paulina Avenue, was one of dozens in Chicago that left a child wounded before they even reached high school.

By the end of the year, 41 children younger than 14 were wounded or killed in shootings, according to a WBEZ review of police data.

That is nearly the same amount as 2013, 2014 and 2015 combined.

While total shootings spiked by 50 percent between 2015 and 2016, the increase in shootings that wounded children 13 or younger went up by 150 percent.

 

Even for children like Tacarra, who escaped with no long-term physical damage except for a scar, the shootings can have a lasting impact. Tacarra is now afraid of loud noises, and her mother and grandmother are afraid to go outside.

“They shoot so much that I’m afraid to walk up and down the street anymore. I am,” Tacarra’s grandmother, Johnnie Morris, said in December. “I go this way I might meet a bullet, go that way I might meet one. So yes, I'm afraid walking up and down the street.”

Morris echoed a sentiment you can hear throughout Chicago, that the people doing the shooting don’t care about accidentally hitting innocent victims.

“They aren’t worried about it, they're not. (That’s why) my grandbaby got shot,” Morris said. “They don’t even care about life anymore. These young kids now … I don’t think they care about their own life.”

It’s a claim Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said he’s seen as well.

“I think when you have a police-involved incident in a community ... there’s a lot of outrage,” Johnson said. “There’s no outrage when you see a young kid killed by gang members, and I don’t understand that.”

And Johnson said that lack of outrage makes it difficult to solve these crimes.

“People just aren’t coming forward with that info that we need to solve these crimes,” Johnson said. “Because let’s face it, the police very rarely witness a shooting or a murder.”

The shooting that wounded Tacarra has not been solved. City data shows that of the 41 shootings that wounded children 13 or younger, police have made an arrest in just three of them.

Tacarra’s grandfather, Arthur Morris, said he knows there are people on his block who know who shot his granddaughter.

Still, he blames the police for the lack of progress.

“Let one of them get shot. (An officer) get shot this morning at 10, 5 o’clock they got whoever shot him or her,” Arthur Morris said. “But one of us?” 

Johnnie Morris said police have too many crimes to investigate.

“There’s so much crime out here now … there's so much killing, and all that they got they hands full,” she said.

Johnson said that’s why he’s planning to promote 350 new detectives over the next two years.

“That’ll be roughly 40 percent more than we have right now, so that would decrease their caseload and give them the ability to spend more time in solving some of these crimes,” Johnson said.

In the meantime, they’re still shooting in West Englewood.

Arthur Morris said gunfire erupted on the block in November as Tacarra played in the front room.

“She was right over there playing, we heard three or four shots, she just flattened out on the floor right there, yelling, ‘y’all get on the floor, get on the floor,’” Morris said. “I hope when she gets about 15 or 16, she done forgot that. Because in the summertime when she’s out there playing, she watches every car go past.”

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid.

Investigative reporting and in-depth journalism at WBEZ is made possible in part with support from Doris and Howard Conant.

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