As Chicago is reeling from ongoing unrest over the killing of George Floyd, the city is also suffering from a surge in gun violence. More than a hundred people have been shot since Friday evening, according to Chicago police.
On Sunday, there were 17 murders according to Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown.
Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar called the high number of killings in Chicago “unprecedented.”
The bloodshed is happening in many of the same places that are being bludgeoned by looting and destruction, leaving community organizations in those neighborhoods struggling to fight multiple battles at once.
On Tuesday afternoon in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, workers from the Institute for Nonviolence set up a tent outside their office at Madison Street and Kostner Avenue to give out ziplock bags filled with essential toiletries like toothpaste, soap and toilet paper.
“Right now we’re just trying to replenish the community a little bit because we know things have been ravaged, pilfered through,” said Ahmad Khalid as he was handing out the supplies. “Some people don’t have basic needs, toiletries. Right? So we just felt the need to share what it is we have.”
On the windows behind Khalid were signs telling people to wash their hands and keep a safe distance from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Inside the office, violence prevention workers were meeting to discuss ongoing gang conflicts and recent shootings — trying to figure out who they needed to meet with to try and prevent retaliation.
“It’s like the COVID-19 people forgot about that, so ‘let’s go riot’ … and the virus is still killing people. And the violence is still killing people,” said Sam Castro, a street outreach supervisor in the Austin neighborhood.
Chris Patterson, the senior director of program and policy for the institute said the staff is feeling “overwhelmed” by everything they are facing. But everyone at the institute on Tuesday was adamant that they would keep soldiering on.
“For us, there is no white flag. We don’t, we can’t, surrender. We’re one of the little small pieces of hope for the guys in the community,” Castro said.
Outreach workers at the institute’s West Side office said they responded to at least 15 shootings between Sunday and Tuesday. Among those is an incident Castro and Patterson described that likely isn’t included in city totals.
Patterson said it happened Sunday night, when a group of people were inside a store just a half block away.
“They were looting and another group of people came over to rob them for what they looted. They exchanged gunfire,” Patterson said.
The original group of looters was stranded, Patterson said, because their car had been shot up.
“We brought them into the office, because it was a safe space for them. We didn’t want them to kind of just linger on Madison Avenue,” Patterson said.
The one person shot was only grazed and did not want medical attention. So the guys called their families to come pick them up. Patterson said it took about an hour for their rides to come, and in that time he was able to calm them down and convince them not to retaliate.
“They didn’t know who did the shooting either or the robbery … [because] they were masked,” Patterson said. “Even though they didn’t know who did the shooting or the attempted robbery, when people get angry like that, they just really exercise that anger on anyone, and particularly those who they already have beef with.”
Because of his intervention, Patterson said he is confident that didn’t happen in this case.
A white board in the offices of the Institute For Nonviolence lists intersections that have been violence hotspots. Patterson said about 20 of their workers were scheduled to be out Tuesday night, trying to prevent shootings and respond when they happen. He said the chaos and looting is making that work even harder.
“We always know the victim side; we don’t always know who the shooter side is,” Patterson said. “Particularly now, because so many people are crossing barriers and just driving around, everyone has a mask on, it’s really hard to identify. … So it’s hard to mediate a conflict when we don’t know the other [side].”
Still, he said, despite the difficulties, the sadness and the carnage, it was important that they be out in the community, visible and helping.
“I think right now, in this age of uncertainty, people just need to know that, you know, the institute is out here,” he said “We want to create the … feeling of normalcy.”