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Caleb Reed, a junior at Mather High School in West Ridge, speaks during a June 16, 2020, press conference outside City Hall about Chicago City Council legislation that would have terminated a $33 million contract between the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools.
Caleb Reed, a junior at Mather High School in West Ridge, speaks during a June 16, 2020, press conference outside City Hall. He was shot to death a month later. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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While we march against police brutality, guns are killing our children

When a teenage activist is killed accidentally by a friend aiming at others, it shows the depth of the gun problem.

It is unimaginable to me.

Caleb Reed, a teen celebrated for his activism on the issue of removing police from Chicago Public Schools, was accidentally killed by his friend, Genove Martin, who was allegedly aiming at someone else, prosecutors say.

On July 31, in the early afternoon, Reed was walking in the 1900 block of West Granville Avenue with a group that included Martin and two others when a gray Chevrolet Malibu “slowly rolled past,” and the shooting started.

Surveillance video showed the teens “running” and “ducking” and Martin allegedly firing a weapon at the vehicle,” prosecutors said.

“He turns his shoulders and kind of fires right over his shoulder with both hands,” Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said.

But instead of Martin hitting his enemies, the bullet struck Reed in the forehead, Murphy said.

On Tuesday, Martin, 18, was charged with first-degree murder in his 17-year-old friend’s death.

He is being held on a $300,000 bail. If convicted, Martin could face life in prison.

It is unimaginable to me.

Martin attended Reed’s funeral and a memorial balloon release honoring his friend.

Those acts underscore the futility of asking shooters to turn themselves in. Gun violence is now being endured in too many communities as a fact of life.

Sadly, in July when this tragedy occurred, it was widely reported that Reed “was found on a sidewalk with a gunshot wound to the head … and no one was in custody.”

Where was his tribe?

The police — the very people that so many young people are disparaging as the enemy of Black people — had to track down Reed’s killer by piecing together surveillance videos.

This tragedy also counters the myths many of us hold about the young Black men who commit these horrendous acts, and the people who are taking so many of these Black lives.

Many of us can recite the names of the latest Black man or woman killed unjustifiably by police officers.

The pain of these killings weigh heavily on the hearts of many, irrespective of race and ethnicity, as is evidenced by the protesters in Kenosha demanding change in wake of the brutal police shooting of Jacob Blake.

But the names of the hundreds of innocent Black men, women and children who have been killed in our communities are forgotten as soon as the cameras are turned off.

It is unimaginable.

Martin doesn’t have a criminal background that would suggest he was headed in the wrong direction.

He was on his way to college, was involved in sports and had performed community service.

But like too many of his peers, he was also a victim of gun violence, having survived a shooting in November.

This tragedy represents such a waste of human potential that we should all be stunned.

On a hot summer day, a gun took one promising life and changed another forever.

Gun owners will argue it wasn’t the gun that killed Reed. It was the shooter. And that is true. But guns have become such a part of our culture, we are no longer shocked by the carnage they cause.

“What happened to Caleb is not a unique situation,” said Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) in a statement on Tuesday.

“The tragic action that led to Caleb’s death is undeniably a call to invest in Black Lives,” the officials said.

But we can’t protect Black lives when they can be so easily taken.

I’m reminded of a woman I recently met by chance.

We were waiting at a nail salon, and we were both impatient.

I was getting ready for my daughter’s wedding. She was getting ready for a nephew’s funeral.

He was only 19 and waiting at a bus stop along with a 72-year-old woman. A car pulled up, and someone inside the vehicle fired. The 72-year-old woman survived. The 19-year-old did not.

I don’t think the shooting even made the news.

Imagine this.

What would have happened if no one in Reed’s group had a gun when the Malibu rolled up?

Would Reed still be alive?

Would his friend, Martin, be on his way to college?

Or have we finally gotten to the point where not having a gun is unimaginable?

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