A year later, families mourn relatives killed during violent weekend post-George Floyd protests
Some of the killings the weekend of May 31, 2020, occurred near places where people were vandalizing and breaking into businesses.
Last May, Tommie Gatewood was looking forward to grabbing breakfast with his 27-year-old son, who was trying to get back on his feet after losing his job.
But later that month — before the breakfast happened — Gatewood got a call saying his son had been fatally shot in Chicago.
He thought it was a cruel joke until a nephew who works in law enforcement confirmed the details.
“I immediately called my pastor for some prayer,” said Gatewood, recalling when his son died. “I had emotions all over the place because I didn’t believe it. It’s not really too easy to talk about.”
Tommie Gatewood Jr. was among at least 26 people killed during a violent weekend last May that overlapped with protests and unrest in Chicago over a video showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, killing him.
Without a clear plan, Chicago police officers found themselves outnumbered as vandalism and unrest spread from downtown to neighborhood businesses and as concerns grew about violence amid the chaos, according to a report from the city’s office of the inspector general. Recently leaked City Hall emails provide a window into how Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration struggled to respond to the intense protests that erupted.
Tommie Gatewood Jr.
Some of the killings that weekend — including the fatal shooting of the younger Gatewood — happened near areas where unrest was also taking place, according to records from the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
On the evening of May 31, Tommie Gatewood Jr. was in the 5100 block of West Madison Street in Austin outside of a store as he and others tried to stop someone from breaking into the business, Chicago police previously said. During the confrontation, Gatewood Jr. was shot multiple times, and he was soon pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Two other people were also shot, Chicago police previously said.
Andrew Sneed faces criminal charges in the shooting that left Gatewood Jr. dead and wounded two other people, according to court records.
The elder Gatewood said he believes his son was there with his friends just before the shooting and they tried to stop the damage to the store because it was often used by people in the area.
“He did the right thing,” Gatewood said about his son. “It cost him his life. I hate that, but there was some good that came out of it because it would give someone a different perspective about what to do in the midst of handling those tragic situations.”
The younger Gatewood had three sisters, including one who had died, and a younger brother, his father said. He didn’t have any children of his own.
Tommie Gatewood described his son as the type of person who was the life of the party. His favorite meal was macaroni and cheese. He had spent some time in prison, and he was trying to get back on his feet, the elder Gatewood said.
“He had one of those personalities that you couldn’t help but love him,” he said.
Nearly a year later, he misses his son and has turned to his church for help healing.
His son’s death happened on the heels of Floyd’s death and the racial reckoning of how police interact with Black residents.
The elder Gatewood thinks the Minneapolis jury got it right when it found the now former officer guilty in the murder of George Floyd. He was also appreciative of the efforts of the Chicago Police Department, particularly the detective who was assigned to his case, after his own son was killed.
Darius and Maurice Jelks
About 1:40 p.m. on May 31, cousins Darius Jelks, 31, and Maurice Jelks, 39, were in their car in the 1600 block of East 95th Street when someone in a dark-colored SUV opened fire, fatally shooting both men, according to Chicago police.
They were near a shopping center located at 9500 S. Stony Island Ave. in Burnside where some people were breaking into businesses while vehicles swarmed the area, according to a report from the medical examiner’s office.
Dionte Jelks said his brother, Darius, had been at their mother’s home when he got a call from their cousin Maurice to pick him up. He was told by family members that the shooting happened as the two were driving back.
He said their homicides happened during a weekend where things were exploding because of what happened to Floyd.
“Unfortunately, my family members got caught up in it,” Jelks said. “I believe the systemic issues that face so many communities, it wreaks havoc on them. No accessibility to food, no sports, and so what else are you going to do when everything is against you?”
Police have not made any arrests in the case, and Jelks said he doesn’t believe there was transparency in the investigation because his family has gotten few answers about its progress. It remains an open investigation, Chicago police said.
Weeks before his brother and cousin were killed, Jelks said he had spoken to his brother about the possibility of relocating the family to the Seattle area because of violence in Chicago. It would have also meant that his brother would have been closer to his own family members, who live in Canada.
“To see that he didn’t have that opportunity to make it, it was devastating for me and my whole entire family,” Jelks said.
His grandmother had told him the family left rural Mississippi to escape racism and later lived in the former Robert Taylor Homes.
And as his family has struggled with the killings of his brother and cousin, another cousin, Oronde G. Jelks, was shot to death in August in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.
“I wonder if my family would have been better off in Mississippi,” Jelks said. “What would our lives been like?”
On May 31, Jerri Richards was worried about her son after hearing about vandalism happening at businesses. She wanted to stay home, but she had to go to work. She tried to convince her 26-year-old son, JaQuawn Newman, to stay at their South Side home, but he left the house after telling her he loved her.
She went to work at 4 p.m. that Sunday and tried to keep tabs on him over the phone.
“I called him and I said, ‘You in the house,’” Richards said she remembers telling her son. “I said people are dying, and he was like, ‘I ain’t going back outside.’”
But he later stopped answering his phone. When one of her sons tried to pick him up, he wasn’t able to reach him. Then, she got a call that her son had been shot.
At 6:43 p.m. May 31, Newman was inside a car in the 4600 block of South Marshfield Avenue when someone opened fire, striking him in the chest, Chicago police previously said. He was taken to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to the Cook Count medical examiner’s office.
Newman said she thinks people thought her son and a man and a woman he was with were involved in looting. But she was told they were on their way to a restaurant. The man her son was with that day didn’t want to tell her what all happened, Newman said.
The homicide remains under investigation, according to Chicago police.
Chicago police officers found Newman after gunshots were detected in the area, according to a report from the medical examiner’s office.
Richards said she wished she could have spoken to the police officers the night her son was killed. She wonders if there were any delays in finding her son and getting him medical attention because of all that was going on that weekend.
“How long did it take to get everything going?” Richards said she asks herself. “Was he laying there? At that time, the looting and the pandemic, they really didn’t touch people. It was so much. I wonder if he suffered.”
Newman liked to fix things, spend time with his nieces and nephews, and his favorite dishes included salmon croquettes and chili. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Newman was working at a restaurant in the Loop and had thought of one day owning his own restaurant, she said.
“He was trying to get his life together; had gotten a car,” Richards said. “He was really doing good.”
But he lost his job when the coronavirus pandemic upended businesses, Richards said. He seemed bored at home and frustrated that he couldn’t work, she said.
She misses the way he would come to her room to make funny faces at her or sit on her bed to see how she was doing. She has sometimes dreamt about him. But as the one-year anniversary of his killing approaches, she’s found it harder to sleep.
“Tomorrow is not promised to you,” Richards said. “You try to live your life the right way, the best that you can, and you just pray. Take one day at a time.”
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.