Evanston mother Carolyn Murray lost her 19-year-old son to gun violence a decade ago.
“Please don’t think that because your son wasn’t killed in violence that you’re completely disconnected, because you’re not,” she said at a Tuesday night town hall gathering at the YWCA Evanston/North Shore. “Predominantly, those homicides affect a Black male. We have Black males in this audience right now.
“So could you at least look at them and think about the possibility that maybe next year you won’t see them again.”
On Nov. 29, the 10-year anniversary of Justin Murray’s death, the Evanston chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America held its first town hall meeting since the reactivation of the local unit.
A panel of community leaders with knowledge and experience related to violence in the city spoke to an audience of some 75 people at the YWCA Evanston/North Shore. The panelists discussed programs addressing gun violence and strategies for protecting those most vulnerable.
Gun violence in Evanston is on the rise and Black Evanstonians are most at risk, speakers said. Evanston’s Black community has a shooting victimization rate more than 30 times higher than white residents, according to Moms Demand Action.
“The darkest moments of my time as mayor have been moments that were effectuated by acts of gun violence,” Mayor Daniel Biss said. “… I think that when an act of gun violence occurs in our community, it affects everyone in very serious ways.”
Biss recently joined the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of mayors around the country who seek to hold gun manufacturers accountable for gun violence. The group established a national database of gun manufacturers whose guns are utilized in crimes in an effort to shame those manufacturers, the mayor said.
Two grim anniversaries this week are evidence of gun violence in Evanston. Justin Murray was fatally shot in front of his grandmother’s home on Nov. 29, 2012.
Shortly before his death, Justin and his mother planned what became one of the most successful gun buyback programs in Evanston history, said town hall moderator Sol Anderson, chief executive of Evanston Community Foundation.
After Carolyn Murray spoke about the threat gun violence poses to the community, Anderson led the packed room in a moment of silence in Justin’s honor.
The Evanston Police Department is hosting a gun buyback at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 1113 Clark St.
Sara Hines, the co-lead of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action, told the crowd she felt the need to resurrect the grassroots group after hearing about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and the many mass shootings that followed, such as the July 4 shooting in Highland Park.
Referencing the recent murders at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Walmart in Chesapeake, Va. and the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting, Hines said, “[W]e feel we have to just jump in and start somewhere. We’re starting to build relationships with partners we’re highlighting here tonight and many others.”
The panelists on Tuesday included representatives from YWCA Evanston/North Shore, James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, Life Without My Child and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Mayor Biss was also on the panel.
Nathan Campbell, an Evanston Township High School junior, spoke before the panelists. He shared national gun violence statistics and proposed violence intervention programs and funding for victims as possible solutions.
“There are many other things that can be created to make Evanston a safer place,” Campbell said. “If we all work together, then we can stop gun violence from continuously rising.”
Campbell serves on the city’s Youth Advisory Committee. The committee’s recent town hall focused on gun violence among Evanston youth and its ties to poverty and safety concerns. The panelists’ discussion focused on these ties too.
The average age of homicide and nonfatal shooting victims in Evanston is 27.6 years old, said town hall moderator Anderson, who asked the panelists how they can reach those in that age demographic.
Audrey Thompson, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation department, said violence prevention practices need to be integrated into people’s lives early on.
The Moran Center offers resources to clients up to the age of 26, but any individuals who begin using the center’s services before 26 won’t be cut off as they age, said Kristen Kennard, deputy director and director of Social Work Services at the Moran Center.
Another approach Thompson proposed is creating paths to youth employment. The city has increased its hourly rate for the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program to a minimum of $13.
The city’s Youth and Young Adult Division helps those between 14 and 26 gain leadership skills and access to workforce development. “If you are willing to give a person an opportunity – be it a job, housing or even a presentation – that is what we need,” Thompson said.
Additionally, Biss said the city’s Guaranteed Income Program, which will give 150 eligible applicants $500 a month for a year on a prepaid debit card, will be kicking off this Thursday.
Youth safety concerns
An ETHS student was arrested earlier this month for bringing a loaded gun on campus.
One reason youths carry guns is for safety, Kennard said. Students are bringing guns to school with them in preparation for when the school day ends and they feel unprotected, she said.
“So that’s what we as adults, as school officials, as organizations, as police as all of these different things – we have to talk to those kids and figure out why they aren’t feeling safe,” Kennard said.
Panelists agreed that identifying ways to help make the community, youth and schools feel safer will decrease gun violence, because then individuals wouldn’t feel the need to carry a gun to defend themselves.
“Supportive and trusting school environments are the strongest way to prevent school violence, and that is true both in the context of day-to-day community gun violence and tragic events like mass shootings,” Hines said.
During the town hall’s Q&A period, one parent asked what the community can do right now to stop gun violence. The mayor’s suggestion was to reach out to City Council members to motivate them to prioritize solutions for gun violence.
Jamie Lynn Harris, founder of Life Without My Child, urged those attending to keep speaking up about the issue.