Gathering on the corner where gunshots took the life of one teenager and wounded four others, community leaders on December 1 denounced the gun violence and pledged to redouble efforts on programs to lead youth in positive directions. The ceremony was at times solemn, at times fiery.
Evanston police received numerous 911 calls at approximately 7:17 p.m. on November 28 reporting multiple shots heard in the area of Green Bay Road and Foster Street.
Officers responded to 1950 Green Bay and found five gunshot victims, police said. One victim, Carl Dennison, 17, died on the scene, police said.
The Evanston/North Branch NAACP convened the “Stop the Violence” rally at the Mobil gas station near where the shootings occurred.
The NAACP “extends deepest condolences to the Dennison family,” said The Reverend Michael Nabors, president of the local chapter of the NAACP and moderator of the event, “and a renewed commitment to the surviving teenagers’ families that we will continue the fight against violence and guns.
“We concur with the mayor in his pledge that the Evanston Police Department would do everything to get to the bottom of what happened and redouble our efforts at violence prevention. Yes, that must be done. But more must be done as well,” he emphasized.
“There is no justifiable reason on earth why five teenagers standing on this corner in Evanston should be the target of gunfire,” Nabors said.
Similarly, he said, “There also is no justifiable reason why students at a high school in Oxford, Michigan, should be shot and killed by a fellow student just yesterday.
“Those who committed the crime must be apprehended,” he said, referring to Sunday night’s shooting in Evanston. “Every resource must unearth those who pulled the triggers that killed and hurt some of our town’s most precious cargo, our children.
“The cavalier attitude regarding gunfire in our nation, the blatant disregard for the value of human life, a certain erasure of common values and the insanity of a society that now accepts its young people’s loss of life are symptoms of a sick and diseased nation,” he said.
“After our sorrows, after our condolences, after a desire to help and assist the victims and their families,” he said, leaders must “with forethought and due diligence mobilize our community as never before, [and] work to develop a collaboration of young people, community groups, agencies and programs, many who are represented here today.
“Opportunities and programs must be supported and others put in place that specifically target at-risk youth and young adults. Our [NAACP] branch will avail as many resources as possible to help identify critical education programs, high tech, high-wage workforce development and training programs that will result in opportunities for young people to excel and not die.
“We must intervene before a crisis and not after. We must provide alternate routes and not dead ends. We must prepare a successful plan and not engage in empty rhetoric.
“There is no question in our mind that the resources are here in our town,” he said, “resources that have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of every young person. If it takes reaching one young person at a time, then we must do so beginning right now.”
Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss, who followed Rev. Nabors to the makeshift lectern – as well as District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon; Willie Shaw, chair of the NAACP’s Political Action Committee; and Bobby Burns, Council member the Fifth Ward where the shootings occurred – also emphasized the need for concerted action.
“This is a disease,” said Biss, “a profound sickness that comes with the availability of guns and the willingness of individuals to use them.”
Echoing Rev. Nabors’s statements, he said, “We have to devote every resource that is available to violence prevention efforts. We need to invest those resources that, yes, are here in this community right now, are adequate in this community right now, to this critical effort.”
In the effort, he said, “We have to pair that on-the-street violence-prevention work with the creation of readily available economic opportunities and jobs and workforce development efforts to demonstrate that paths forward exist.
“We have to work together and we cannot begin to accept this situation as an inevitability,” said the mayor. He acknowledged the presence of several City Council members in attendance, including Burns; Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Jonathan Nieusma from the 4th Ward.
Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, meanwhile, spoke of the mood in the high school community following the shooting, saying it was “unimaginable that five young people in our community were gunned down when they simply came here to get some Arizona tea.
“Tragic isn’t a great enough word,” he said. “And the fact that one of those teenagers has died just adds to to the tragedy.
“I hope today every one of you is feeling outrage,” he said, addressing the audience, “because this is outrageous. And what we need to do is turn our outrage into renewed action.
“I know that we believe that our children deserve a future. I know that we believe that our children deserve to be safe in this community. And I know that we believe that as a community we all have a responsibility for the safety and the futures of our children.”
The NAACP’s Shaw also spoke about the community’s collective responsibility.
“The Black community and other communities of color have experienced decades of divestment,” she said. “It is a malignant cancer in our nation, and that cancer will continue until properly treated.
“But more policing isn’t the answer,” she declared. “Over-reliance on the tools of arrest, prosecution [and] incarceration has only harmed our communities and has not made us safe.
“Sadly, we are here, again, because of violence,” she said.
“But children are not born violent. It is a learned behavior. We must all do a better job to prepare our young people to become better citizens.
“That means parents must do better. That means that they must seek assistance when they need it.
“There’s a lack of investment in our children from schools. Schools must do better.
“There is a lack of investment in our children in our churches. Churches must do better.
“Evanston is fortunate to have a tremendous amount of programming. They must make those programs available and accessible for our children.
“We have a tremendous number of civic programs, clubs, sororities, fraternities – they must all do better for our children,” she said.
“We must have programs that expose our children to the wealth and breadth of our nation. Our leaders must exit their cars and safe havens in order to establish positive relationships for our young people. Our children deserve it and we must be there for them.”
Burns, the final speaker, addressed the after-effects of the violence the community has experienced.
“One of the terrible things that violence does is it takes away our voice and it makes people further isolate themselves,” he said.
“And so I want to let everybody know in the community to not lose your voice. Do not feel isolated. I am here in the community to speak with anyone about this incident.”
“I said this yesterday at a Fifth Ward meeting that the call that I want is someone saying, ‘Look, I have a young man, young person in my home that I think may be involved in violence and I think may have a firearm.’
“I want that call; call me,” Burns said. “And I’m not talking about police response – they do what they do in a different program. But call me,” he said, speaking of the resources the city has to deter violence.