Citizen eyewitnesses can be the difference in police getting charges approved on a case, Sgt. James Pillars told residents at a Fifth Ward meeting July 28.

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This story was updated on July 30 with a sidebar.

Evanston officials are turning to the public for help after three fatal shootings in four days, including two on the City’s west side Fifth Ward, where the violence has left residents feeling “traumatized,” the ward alderman said, speaking at the July 27 City Council meeting.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th,Ward, was among the aldermen sending condolences to the families of the recent shootings.

In Ald. Simmons’s ward, Deashawn Turner, 21, was shot and killed just after midnight on Saturday, July 25 in the 2200 block of Emerson Street.

That shooting was followed by another fatal shooting the next day. Andrew Williams, 29, was shot and killed in the 1900 block of Hartrey Avenue in the middle of the day, Sunday, July 26, just a day before his 30th birthday, in a shooting that may have been retaliatory, police said.

Police are also investigating a fatal shooting last Thursday, July 23, on the other side of the City, in the southeast Eighth Ward. Brian Carrion, a 20-year-old from Glenview, was shot and killed near the Red Line station on the Evanston side of Howard Street, and a 21-year-old Evanston man nearby was wounded.

Speaking at the start of the Council meeting, Ald. Simmons echoed Mayor Stephen Hagerty’s words, that the City, experienced “a pretty terrible weekend.”

“Our prayers are with the families, but my heart is also with the entire community,” Ald. Simmons said.  “We experienced this together. I would imagine there were dozens of gunshots that we heard over this weekend, and we are all traumatized.”

Ald. Simmons has scheduled a virtual meeting for tonight, at 7 p.m., to address the recent violence and hear residents’ concerns.

For more details on the meeting, visit the city website at and under Meetings, click on 5th Ward Meeting-Virtual.

Ald. Simmons said there was “a theme between three of the four homes that were impacted directly by the gun violence,” with seniors being the most affected.

“Our seniors are already vulnerable with COVID, in addition to their age,” she said. “And for our seniors to have to deal with bullets in their home and not able to enjoy their senior years in peace is … awful. I don’t know a word beyond awful.”

She appealed to the “families who are directly involved in this beef or dispute, if you could please consider the seniors and the children – find some place in your heart, find someplace to value your families and yourself and your own life and our community’s future.”

Police believe that at least two of homicides were gang-related, said Police Chief Demitrous Cook, briefing Council members on the incidents.

No arrests have been made to this point, but Chief Cook said the North Regional Major Crimes Task Force (NORTAF) “is being very productive on one of the homicides,” not specifying which one.

In the Fifth Ward, in addition to the homicides, police responded to three shots-fired calls during the spree of violence, the chief said.

He said senior citizens, children and various family members were in a house on the 1700 block of Payne Street when the shooters or would-be killers approached through Twiggs Park and fired their weapons at that location.

Then, several families were asleep in a multi-unit apartment building on the 1900 block of Dodge Avenue, he said, when awakened by the sound of gun fire and multiple rounds of ammunition being fired “through windows, doors and into the living room.”

And then, at 9:15 a.m. on July 25th, the same day, the offenders returned to Payne “and shot up the house again,” the Chief said.

 “So this is serious business,” said the Chief. “And it’s going to take the community to come together.”

“Community policing is about us uniting and sticking together,” he said. “And when we stick together, we can solve homicides, we can drive violence out of our community.

He urged the public to use the Department’s Text-A-Tip to CRIMES (274637) line.

“It’s totally anonymous. We have no way of contacting you back. But the information may be good in pushing us in the direction of closing any of these situations,” he said.


Eyewitnesses Can Make the Difference in Getting Charges Approved, Police Say

Evanston police realize that community members are sometimes reluctant to step up and testify in cases such as the violent shootings that struck the Fifth Ward last weekend.

But residents willing to step forward can make the difference in having a case stick, said Evanston Police Sergeant James Pillars, presenting statistics at the special Fifth Ward meeting July 28. Sgt. Pillars heads the department’s Neighborhood Enforcement Team, which handles illegal drug sales and gang-related issues,

“I know there is fear of retaliation,” he said, speaking at the meeting which was held on line because of social distancing constraints. “But sometimes, even if we can prove up to the last little bit on who we know it is – we’re 99.9% percent sure who it is – sometimes we need that extra push from the community to get those charges approved.”

At the meeting, community members joined police in discussing the factors behind the string of violence last weekend, which included two homicides as well as shots fired incidents where bullets were sprayed into a living room of one residence and its windows and doors. In his presentation, Sgt. Pillars noted how citizen support can be key in achieving prosecution, presenting statistics. Out of a total of 7,700 arrests the Department made between 2014 to 2019, 45% of the individuals arrested were arrested two more times; 15% were arrested five times or more; and 3.4% of the individuals were arrested ten times or more after their initial arrest, he said. “So I think you know the sentiment of a lot of people around the community is ‘The community cannot do this by themselves.’ And certainly the police cannot do this by themselves. We need help from you guys,” he said.

He also discussed the role of street gangs, who police believe may have had a role in the latest incident. According to information, the Department received last December in response to a Freedom of Information request, there are roughly 274 registered gang members in the City, with about 75 to 100 of those individuals considered “primary players,” Sgt. Pillars told his audience.

About six gang factions operate within an area stretching from Evanston all the way down to East Rogers Park and into Edgewater, with disputes between them dating back years.

Whereas in the 1980s and 1990s, the disputes may have been “over what colors you’re wearing, gang territory and drug sales,” police are finding that a lot of the issues these days may involve personal issues, such as a girlfriend, or jealousy over one gang’s making more money through drug sales than the other, he said.  He said social media is also playing a role, allowing gang members to use those platforms to carry their disputes. He said music videos are a vehicle too.

Evanston resident Meleika Gardner asked the Sergeant what more police need to make an arrest if they are 99% sure of who committed the offense.

“Well, the best thing and thing that helps us the most would be an eyewitness,” Sgt. Pillars said.

“More than anything, we need an eyewitness who is willing to go on record and testify at court of what they saw. Forensic evidence, video evidence, phone logs – [those are] very good, and many times that can push it over the hump. But sometimes, as the Chief [Demitrous Cook] said, we can get all the way to the threshold” but the evidence still may fall short of what the State’s Attorney’s Office would need to authorize a charge.

Ms. Gardner noted the reluctance of many to step forward that role.

“I mean, many of us have lost family members, and there were witnesses; but they’re never going to come forward. So then the violence just continues and continues. … So, what do we do?” Chief Cook, a resident of the Fifth Ward, acknowledged that citizens would have such concerns.  “But now crime is drastic,” he said. “We have broad daylight shootings, a total disregard for young children playing in the park, total disregard for people out enjoying amenities of Evanston. “It’s time to fight for our neighborhoods and our community,” the Chief said.

The Chief pointed out that police officers take steps to protect witnesses in such cases. After an incident, “we’ll go canvass and try to get a general sense of who may have seen something, but we’re not going to interview the person there. We’re going to try to be as covert as possible so as not to jeopardize somebody’s safety.”

In addition, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the FBI have witness protection programs in cases the Department has someone willing to testify, he said.


Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.