Last Friday night in Rogers Park, 64-year-old schoolteacher Cynthia Trevillion was killed when a stray bullet fired by someone in a dark-colored SUV. | Chicago Waldorf School Community photo

A teacher’s senseless death, and the public official who knew her

SHARE A teacher’s senseless death, and the public official who knew her
SHARE A teacher’s senseless death, and the public official who knew her

Editor’s note: Joe Ferguson is the city of Chicago’s inspector general, a member of the city’s Police Accountability Task Force and a former board member at Waldorf School, where Cynthia Trevillion taught his children. Trevillion, 64, was murdered last week in Rogers Park. The Chicago Sun-Times asked Ferguson for his thoughts about the tragedy. Here’s what he wrote:

Last Friday, a schoolteacher died on the streets of Chicago. An unintended victim of a drive-by shooting. During the fading daylight hours of a workday. By a CTA station. At the end of the rush-hour commute. In one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods. While walking to meet friends for dinner. With her husband, who also is a schoolteacher.

These people are not strangers to me; they taught my children.

It all stings. Cynthia Trevillion’s sudden and senseless killing not only is a loss to society, but it also shakes the sense of well being, security and faith for the residents of the neighborhood where this event occurred. Her husband, John, is left to carry on with an unsalvable gash to his soul, unspeakable loneliness and survivor’s guilt.

Then there is the tightly knit school that has been bettering the lives of children in Chicago for 40 years. The school will soldier on, but what of those children? There resides maybe the broadest tragedy. Children taught to view the world as a good place will struggle to do so again. And they and future children will not have the benefit of a good, kind-hearted, loving and supportive teacher; maybe two teachers.

This is not normal.

Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, in characteristically heartfelt fashion, recently asked why this shooting was different. A part-time Chicago Public Schools employee died a few days later, shot while sitting on her front porch, another innocent victim. It pierced the news cycle and then faded. Mary asked why the Rogers Park murder carried a jolt that the ceaseless stream of others have not.

Because it was an unintended wound to privilege – my privilege.

A white teacher was cut down in a place and under circumstances we do not associate with such occurrences. It stood out as not normal, even in a city in which we have internalized and compartmentalized the soul-grinding carnage on our streets as utterly normal. It is, in fact, a daily, at times hourly, occurrence in other parts of Chicago.

The children in those parts of our city never get to see the world as good, and are relentlessly exposed to brutal violence and the threat of violence such as to have them grow up in modified states of traumatic stress. This is not normal, either. If Chicago’s gun-murder rate was the same as New York’s, our annual murder tally would be 150 — about one-fifth of last year’s total and less than a quarter of this year’s likely total.

Joe Ferguson | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Joe Ferguson | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

Can this be turned around? Hell, yes. Can it be turned around tomorrow? Hell, no.

But we can start to turn it around today. So, for those in positions of power in this grim time, some suggestions.

To the police superintendent: Step up. There is much leadership within, but not enough, from CPD. You can fix that. Start by telling City Hall what you think CPD needs to be doing, and demand from City Hall what you need to do it. Take a lesson from your patrol days. Patrol officers exercise enormous judgment in the field, but do so within the parameters of extensive training and guidance from the department to execute strategies developed by experts. In other words, patrol officers are brave, dedicated soldiers who follow orders and direction from leadership. Your role in this scenario: lead.

And let’s admit what we all know: Our city does not have a comprehensive crime strategy. We desperately need one — and a leader to make it a reality. What we don’t need? Spinning an innovative technology-enhanced tactical pilot project as a crime strategy, which it is not.

If you are missing the needed expertise internally, then get help from the outside. People chosen by you, not City Hall. People with experience and demonstrated successes in developing and implementing crime strategies in large municipalities.

CPD’s shamefully low case-clearance rate — about 25 percent of homicides and less than 5 percent of non-fatal shootings in Chicago result in arrests — is astonishingly below any respectable national standard. Fix it. Now.

To the mayor: Put up. Tell the Sup what you expect of him, give him what he needs to do it and get the spinmeisters, speechwriters and civilian consultants out of his hair. If he doesn’t deliver or doesn’t have a damn good reason connected to a damn good plan — no more tactical incrementalism, only a comprehensive crime strategy — then thank him for his service and show him the door.

And no more press conferences about short-term crimefighting “wins.” We all know better, and need, deserve and can do better.

To the City Council: Show up. Last week my office released an audit revealing CPD to be in a woeful state of administrative dysfunction, likely burning tens of millions in taxpayer money needed for well-formulated crimefighting and holistic reforms. In any other city in America, that would be cause for a legislative committee hearing and public grilling of leadership.

To all of us: Speak up. Stop accepting our city’s violence as normal. Be angry. Be loud. Show you care about your fellow Chicagoans by demanding that our leaders do more. And check your privilege along the way.

Let’s get going. Make this latest tragedy actually count for something.

Cynthia and John Trevillion deserve that. And so does every other victim of violence in our great, but troubled, city.

The Latest
Parking meter revenues are nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. With 61 years to go on the 75-year lease, Chicago Parking Meters LLC has now recouped its entire $1.16 billion investment, plus $502.5 million more.
Damontae Sessom was charged as an adult with attempted murder and aggravated battery in the Tuesday shooting that wounded a 27-year-old bystander as she waited for a bus.
“We have to invest now,” Colleen Cicchetti, a psychologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital, told a panel of legislators tasked with addressing the shortage.
Once again, Democrats are pushing for not the perfect, but at least some good when it comes to responding to mass shootings, the latest in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.
In March, the Illinois Senate rejected the appointments of two interim board members. A third quit rather than face a vote. With 2 new members, the board returned Thursday.