The year’s violent trend continued in June, according to numbers released early Wednesday by the Chicago Police Department. During the first half of the year, 329 people were killed in Chicago, a 34% increase over the same period last year.
As the city heads into the July 4 weekend, traditionally one of heightened violence, many communities and officials are especially worried that the bloody toll the violence has taken on children may extend into a third week.
The grief and anger were palpable as a crowd gathered in the rain Monday evening outside a Logan Square home. They were there to remember 10-year-old Lena Marie Nunez-Anaya, who was fatally shot on Saturday while inside watching television.
“If anyone lost a child, please raise your hand,” said Elizabeth Ramirez, co-founder of Parents for Peace and Justice. “Around you — turn around — in front of you, there’s people that lost a child.”
According to police, Nunez-Anaya was killed by a gang member’s bullet fired from more than a block away. It was not intended for her. Just a few hours earlier, in Englewood, 1-year old Sincere Gaston was killed by a bullet fired into the car where he was riding with his mom. Police say they believe the bullet was meant for the child’s father.
So far this year, 25 children have been killed by gunfire in Chicago. Eight of them were killed since Father’s Day. A WBEZ analysis of data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office finds the number of victims under the age of 18 killed by guns in 2020 only slightly exceeds the same period of the last two years. It is notably fewer, however, than the 40 children killed in gun violence during the first half of 2017.
“Before, they used to tell parents keep your kids at your home, and now you can’t even keep your kids in the comfort of their own home because bullets are riddling through,” said Michelle Perez, a mother of five who lives just a couple blocks from where Nunez-Anaya was killed. Perez came out to the vigil to call for action. She held up a sign on which she had written the names and ages of children killed in Chicago in 2020.
“We are losing our future. Our kids are our future,” she said. “So I just thought I would invest and spend time and look up all the names because they all deserve justice.”
On Monday, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown called on the public to cooperate with police in solving these cases.
“For God’s sake, for the sake of Chicago’s children, come forward with any information you have to help us solve these crimes,” Brown said. He blamed low bond amounts, the use of electronic monitoring and the effect that COVID-19 has had on the criminal justice system for the violence.
“The criminal justice system shut down,” Brown said. “And these murdering, evil bastards have taken advantage of these situations.”
Last week, 19-year old Laroy Battle was charged with the murder of two Chicago teens who had walked to a corner store to buy candy. Police say Jasean Francis, 17, and Charles Riley, 16, reportedly had encountered Battle at the store and simply asked Battle how tall he was, and said they hope to be as tall.
“There’s a conversation happening now around rules of engagement,” said Melvyn Hayward Jr., head of programs at Chicago CRED, a violence prevention group. “We know that we can’t stop this violence overnight. But what we’re asking guys is, one, not to shoot just randomly in a community. Secondly, we’re asking that guys eliminate this thought about just running into crowds and shooting when innocent bystanders are being hurt.”
Hayward said his organization has started trying to spread that message in recent weeks as the gun toll on children has gained increased attention.
“I think this is really about a harm reduction strategy — for us we want to reduce violence altogether,” he said. “But we know to be realistic we have to reduce it at a pace that’s most realistic to get it down for what makes sense for the city.”
Still, even as the month of June closed out, the specter of continued violence was present. A 15-year old boy and a 3-year old girl, just blocks apart in West Englewood, were both shot by occupants of vehicles Tuesday evening. Both were taken to hospitals, the boy in good condition and the girl in critical condition.
Odette Yousef is a reporter with WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @oyousef.