The violence that claimed the lives of six Evanston youth last year still reverberates through the community. Several local organizations, including one composed of members of some of the families of the murdered young men, are working to raise awareness of violence as a communitywide problem and to encourage youth – particularly black males – to “choose life.”
By “choosing life,” young black men will choose to avoid antisocial activities involving drugs, gangs and violence, the posters and the speakers implied. “It starts from within,” said Reverend Clarence Weaver of MOMS.o.s.
At noon on April 9 about 75 people gathered at Twiggs Park for a march to Evanston Township High School and an anti-violence rally there, both sponsored by MOMs.o.s. Some of the marchers held posters saying “Choose Life” and “Unity.” Other posters carried photographs of Evanston youth killed last year.
Barbara Davis wore a black leather vest with “RIP Little Bro 1987-2010” in memory of her brother Marcus Davis, who was shot to death in December.
Julie Pryor, Mr. Davis’s stepmother, said she had come to the march even though she was not a member of MOMS.o.s. “We do it for the kids,” Ms. Davis said. “They knew their uncle.”
Others joined the group once they settled into the high school’s Upstairs Theatre, where speakers included local clergy, Freedom Writer Manuel Scott, Pittsburgh Steelers football player Rashad Mendenhall, his brother Walter and Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.
The message was clear: The Evanston community must stand up to violence by helping youth understand and question the decisions that lead them to choose to carry a handgun.
“We refuse to believe that death is the legacy of our young people,” said Reverend Karen Mosby-Avery of Second Baptist Church in the opening prayer.
Mr. Scott, Walter Mendenhall and Rashad Mendenall spoke of the ramifications of decisions that lead to violent actions.
Mayor Tisdahl told the crowd that ending violence was important to her and said, “I need your help.” She said block clubs can play a substantial role in improving community safety. She referred to what some have called the “Miracle on Jackson Avenue” – where, within three years, through cooperation among the City, the police and the residents in the 1900 block of Jackson Avenue, the number of calls to the police was reduced by 98 percent (See evanstonroundtable.com or the June 9 print edition of the RoundTable).
“Know your neighbors,” Mayor Tisdahl said. “Call the police if there is something amiss. The correct number of homicides for Evanston is zero.”
Police Chief Richard Eddington praised the message of Saturday’s rally and said examining decisions that lead to the decision to carry a gun will help the community address violence.
Recognizing the slain youth encouraged “more mothers to come out and grieve with other mothers,” said Wendy Weaver, co-founder of MOMS.o.s. She is an aunt of David Branch, who was stabbed to death in December of last year. She and Mr. Branch’s mother, Cathy Key, are co-founders of MOMS.o.s.
“The message was one of hope,” Ms. Weaver said. “People need to know that, if they have no place to go, they can come to us.”
A Communitywide Effort to End ViolenceMayor Elizabeth Tisdahl told the RoundTable she is working with several organizations, including the police department and Northwestern University, on what she hopes will be a year-long communitywide campaign against guns and violence. “”We hope to get all the not-for-profits involved,”” she said. “”The proliferation of guns is frightening.””
In order for a communitywide anti-violence effort to work, said Police Chief Richard Eddington, “”multiple things have to occur. The community must consistently say ‘This conduct is unacceptable.’ But we [also] have to dial this back several decisions, to the point before the person was shot or stabbed and say [to the shooter or stabber], ‘What kind of decision are you making in your life that you get a gun or a knife? That you carry a gun or a knife?’ The community has to critique those decisions, engage in that kind of introspective dialogue.
“”By the time the police are engaged, it’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy to look at those pictures [of the murder victims]. But we have to look at the decisions that got them to this point. These things rarely just ‘happen,’”” Chief Eddington said.
Reverend Clarence Weaver of MOMS.o.s. said a decision to shun violence “”starts from within. … It’s a difficult situation, but at the same time, it’s a whole lot better than having a life cut short.””
Chief Eddington says he feels Evanston is “”a lot closer to being violence-free than many other communities.”” Youth must take a hard look at the root causes of decisions that lead to violent acts, he said. But they have support in the community and at the schools to help them make positive decisions.
More immediately, Minister Gwen Rucker-Chillers, who serves on the MOMS.o.s. board, urged everyone to sign the petition sponsored by Peaceable Cities opposing a proposed law that would allow certain people to carry concealed weapons.