William “Willie” Cooper, 58, was gunned down on Saturday near the “Lilydale Outreach Workers for a Better Community,” a nonprofit organization he ran.
A car drove up on 95th Street near the Dan Ryan Expressway. Someone waved Cooper over to that car, and someone in that vehicle wielding an AR-15 assault weapon fatally shot Cooper in the mouth and torso.
He was pronounced dead on the street.
So far, police have made no arrests.
But Cooper’s death has had a chilling effect on the community.
After all, if someone known for helping teenagers find jobs and ex-offenders get back on their feet could get assassinated on the street, then what hope is there?
People who knew Cooper describe him as the “Mayor of 95th” Street.
But so far, no one has stepped up with the information police need to make an arrest.
Besides running his own anti-violence group, Cooper was associated with CeaseFire, now known as “Cure Violence.”
“Willie was one of my first violence interrupters. He helped mediate over 50 conflicts that could have turned deadly while he worked with me. Everybody loved him and respected his office,” said Tio Hardiman, the former director of Ceasefire Illinois.
“Cure Violence,” is part of the UIC School of Public Health. Cooper was last employed by “Cure Violence” in 2009, according to a spokesman for UIC.
But apparently not everyone respected Cooper’s street cred.
According to sources, there’s gang fighting in that stretch of 95th Street, and Cooper was right in the middle of it. That conflict allegedly pits older gang members against younger gang members, and could have led to Cooper’s assassination.
“This thing is going to escalate. The older guys are not going to take this sitting down. It’s going to be 100 percent retaliation,” the source said.
If that’s true, then 95th Street could become one of the deadliest streets in the city.
It is hard to imagine that the violence could get any worse.
Last weekend was the deadliest non-holiday weekend of the year, with 10 people killed, including 10-year-old Gustavo Garcia.
The fact that Cooper is so widely known in the area where he was shot suggests that his killers aren’t concerned about being caught, which speaks to the number of shooting cases that go unsolved.
“I do believe he was targeted. Who targeted him, I don’t know,” said Bamani Obadele, a longtime community activist who served six months in prison on corruption charges under the Rod Blagojevich administration.
“But if a fellow activist can be shot, they can shoot Andrew Holmes. They could shoot me. [Cooper] was trying to bring all sides together to intervene,” Obadele said.
Holmes usually shows up on the scene after a shooting, and he urges the community to cooperate with police.
Some people considered Cooper the “neighborhood protector,” Obadele said.
“Last week, he stopped a security guard from chasing a kid down the street for stealing some hair out of one of the stores. My point is anyone who worked up in that part of Roseland and Princeton Park knew Willie Cooper and knew what he was all about,” he added.
But Cooper’s murder — in broad daylight on a busy thoroughfare like 95th Street — shows the people who are behind the guns don’t even fear getting caught.
Police are not ready to say Cooper was targeted, and they do not have a motive for this killing.
However, police found a small amount of heroin on Cooper’s person when he was killed. Detectives are exploring the possibility that Cooper, who had gang involvement in his past, might have had contact with the “gang life style” or was involved with some type of “drug interactions,” a police source said.
Hardiman said it is “highly” unusual for a 58-year-old man to be killed in a gang dispute.
“I can’t see anybody harming Willie because of anything associated with any type of gang situation. I just think he was shot, and he was targeted for sure,” said Hardiman, who is running for governor.
I hate to say it. I hate to even think it.
But this brazen killing is reminiscent of the violence committed by drug cartels in Mexico.
If the killer’s intent was to intimidate an entire community into silence, then that tactic is apparently working.