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The latest in a string of shootings on the City’s west side brought the Mayor, two aldermen, the police chief and about six officers and a half-dozen other City employees to Alderman Delores Holmes’s Fifth Ward meeting on May 16.
Their message to the residents was unified: Complacency about the violence that has led to the murder or attempted murder of four youths and numerous shots fired at cars and homes must end, and residents who have information about those crimes should share that information with police.
The two most recent incidents in these string of shootings, which police say may be connected, occurred on May 7 and May 12. On May 7 at about 3 p.m. one, or maybe as many as three, young men fired shots at each other at the edge of the playground at Fleetwood-Jourdain, where at least one mother and child were sitting. On May 12, Evanston resident Blake Ross was found murdered on the south side of Chicago. (See story on page 3.)
Police say they know who is behind the May 7 shooting, but they need corroborating first-hand information if there is to be any hope of a conviction.
“I’m very frustrated,” Ald. Holmes said at the May 16 meeting that had been scheduled before the two most recent shootings and that drew about 100 people.
“When you can shoot in the afternoon where there are kids on the playground, that is not acceptable. We have allowed a few people to make us miserable because we don’t speak out. … These young men who shot guns in daylight in a playground go home, eat somebody’s food, live in somebody’s house. … I’m standing tonight and I’m hoping there are people standing with me. We know who it was [but our knowledge] is second-hand. We need firsthand information.”
“I stand with Alderman Holmes,” said Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. “This is not acceptable. … Let’s choose to take care of our children.”
Ald. Holmes listed several things the City and the community have done in the past two years to address the problem of youth violence, such as extending the hours for community recreation centers, expanding the focus on mentoring and creating partnerships for job training.
A prayer rally and march to Evanston Township High School is being planned for June 22, and a gun buy-back, the second one in six months, is scheduled for June 29 at St. Nicholas Church, said Ald. Holmes. She said her goal for the night’s meeting was to “leave here with three concrete things that we as a community can do.”
Several residents and former residents spoke, and a few offered concrete suggestions.
Police Chief Richard Eddington, public affairs officer Commander Jay Parrott and Detective Tosha Wilson each described the importance to the community of cooperating with police. Many residents know who is responsible for the violence, they said, but without clear evidence the cases will not be solved and the violence will continue.
The Surveillance Video
Commander Parrot showed the surveillance video of the May 7 shooting at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St. He pointed to the shooter in the video as he walked the audience through the brief surveillance tape. He said there were a parent and child near the front of the playground, when a person began shooting across the playground toward Foster Field, to the northeast.
“We believe there were probably two other shooters. We believe there were a couple of people in the back field who were being shot at,” he said.
The surveillance tape shows some people running, and a later tape shows a person believed to be one of the shooters, said Cmdr. Parrot. “We know [there are] witnesses. We identified one person in the area but [we] did not see the person with a gun. We have a good idea who was involved.”
He urged the residents to cooperate with police. “We’re dealing with a level of violence – and no cooperation with the police… [T]here’s a potential of innocent people getting hurt.” The “no-snitch” rule, which keeps some residents silent about crimes and suspects, prevents police from doing their job, he said.
Stop and Frisk
Only a few weeks ago, Chief Eddington said he tried to avoid a “stop-and-frisk” program such as that implemented in New York City. The program there engendered some criticism, but violent crime was considerably lessened, he said.
At the May 16 Fifth Ward meeting, the Chief signaled a reversal of that policy.
“One thing I’ve worked very hard to avoid is ‘stop-and-frisk.’ [But] We’ve broken through to a level of violence that’s completely unacceptable.” He said he did not believe that “every African American male between the ages of 15 and 50” should be patted down, “but I do have a list of the combatants in these events, and this daisy-chain of violence is not random … The stop-and-frisks will be targeted on these individuals. … The only way for the police … to impact a problem is to make it hazardous for you to carry your illegal gun. We’re going to have to change the paradigm that it’s OK to carry a gun.”
Chief Eddington alluded to a program initiated in Evanston thorough which City employees are attempting to work directly with youth who are likely to commit violent acts. He added, though, “I’m pretty much convinced that I can’t handcuff my way out of this situation, but for the 10 percent that don’t get it, we have handcuffs.”
Like Cmdr. Parrott and Ald. Holmes, Chief Eddington indicated that the suspects are known to the police.
In addition to stop-and-frisk, the police department will have a stepped-up police presence because of the violence and the reports of shots fired. The Evanston Police Department is also enlisting the aid of the Sheriff’s Department’s gangs unit.
“Of the events that have scarred the community over the last years,” said Chief Eddington, the ones that have been solved have been solved with community cooperation.
“Unless you step forward, [the violence] will continue,” Chief Eddington said. “We collectively have to come to grips with this ‘snitching’ issue. … For us to continue to degrade cooperating with the police department by calling it ‘snitching’ is ridiculous. We need to have zero tolerance. We need you to help us get there. We need the information to clear the crimes. …We need community support to be effective in this level of violence.”
Answering a question about a way to get follow-up from a tip, crime report or conversation with police, Chief Eddington said, “There are a couple of ways we do that – crime maps and Twitter accounts … You can ask the beat cop what’s happening.” He also said that since some people who talk to the police prefer confidentiality, not all information would necessarily be made public.
Longtime resident Wanda Reed said, “What I see today is not a good life for kids. These young people do not have a home life. People have got to communicate; they’ve got to be available; they’ve got to be parents. We got freedom, but it came with a price. What is that price? Guns, drugs.”
Several speakers decried the state of the Fifth Ward. Leticia Parks Payne, who said she is the grand-niece of Rosa Parks, said she left Evanston in 1994 because “the City wrote out all the services.” She returned here a few years ago but said she is considering leaving again.
“There’s a whole generation of kids dying,” Ms. Parks said. “This is a sin and a shame. You let it happen. … How could you let this happen?”
Madelyn Ducre said, “We’d better get busy. We’re playing games. This community has to get together and stop this killing. Get up … and reach out and touch.”
Charlene (Perrin) Nyomo, who said she moved from the Fifth Ward and now lives in Michigan, said she would not want to live here or let her grandchildren visit the area because, she said, they would be pressured to join a gang.
About an hour-and-a-half into the two-hour-scheduled meeting, Pastor Patricia Efiom of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church stood up to speak. “It is a shame that we are in this room and we have not respected the goal. This is a clear example of one way this community is in disarray. People have been complaining and posturing and telling stories about how things used to be. This is not about you. Can we get to the issue so the kids can stop dying?”
Dr. Dorothy Williams, executive director of Family Focus Evanston said, “I am putting out a plea. Men, you have to stand up and help us. We have young men asking for a role model.”
Kathy Lyons, executive director of the Moran Center for Youth Advocacy said, “People can listen and reach out. If we don’t engage young people in conversation, how will we start making a change?”
Brandi Efiom, a junior at ETHS, said she loves poetry and suggested a poetry slam. “We can create community if we reach out,” she said.
“If you want to know how the police work, you should join the Citizens Police Academy,” said Joan Hickman. The CPA is a 12-week program that gives lay people a chance to see first-hand how the various departments of the Evanston Police Department operate.
Det. Wilson, one of the two detectives on the May 7 shooting, brought the audience back to grim reality.
“Text-a-tip is good, but it is anonymous,” said Det. Wilson. “It won’t stand up in court. I know the whole story of what happened at Fleetwood. I can give you names; I can give you dates of birth. … If you’re not woman enough or man enough to say ‘This is what I saw and this is who I saw do it … don’t expect the case to be closed. Everyone here pretty much knows that story. … If you want the case to be closed, you’ve got to close it.”