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As more kids fall victim to gun violence, community leaders offer rewards, seek solutions

The weekend gun violence pushed Chicago over 300 homicides so far this year.

Police officers inspect a car that was used to transport a woman and a child to St. Bernard Hospital on June 27, 2020. The shooting was reported in the 6300 block of South Yale Avenue in Englewood. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Police officers inspect a car that was used to transport a woman and a child to St. Bernard Hospital on Saturday, June 27, 2020. The shooting was reported in the 6300 block of South Yale Avenue in Englewood.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

With Chicago’s gun violence surging as the summer heats up, community leaders were left searching for answers Sunday after three minors were killed and another child was wounded over a 12-hour span a day earlier.

Antiwon Douglas, 17, was the first to fall victim to the violence when he was fatally shot about 11:25 a.m. Saturday amid an altercation in Humboldt Park.

Then, just after 2 p.m., 1-year-old Sincere Gaston was shot to death and his mother was wounded as she drove home from a laundromat in Englewood.

Within eight hours, 10-year-old Lena Nunez was fatally struck by a bullet that tore through a window of an apartment in Logan Square.

And at 11:18 p.m., another stray bullet grazed an 8-year-old girl who was watching television inside an apartment less than 2 miles from where Douglas was killed.

Sixty-one other people have also been wounded in weekend shootings, including 15 others who were shot to death, according to data maintained by the Chicago Sun-Times. The latest toll follows another devastating weekend that left 12 minors shot, including a 3-year-old boy and four teenagers who were fatally wounded.

The weekend gun violence brought Chicago past 300 homicides so far this year, the benchmark that Supt. David Brown challenged the police department to stay under in April. Last year, the city didn’t break 300 homicides until early August, according to Sun-Times data.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a longtime crusader against gun violence who leads St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, declared that Chicago is now “in a state of emergency” and demanded that political leaders work together to address the violence, the strained relationship between the community and the Chicago Police Department and other systemic problems that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the 45 years I’ve ministered at St. Sabina, I’ve never felt more hopelessness and despair in the neighborhood as I do right now,” said Pfleger.

‘It could be our kid next time’

He and other activists have now pledged at least $39,000 for information leading to an arrest in Gaston’s killing. Police said the 1-year-old was shot and killed when another vehicle pulled up beside his mother’s car near the intersection of Halsted and 60th streets and someone inside opened fire.

Sincere Gaston, 1, was shot and killed Saturday in Englewood.
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Early Walker, owner of W&W Towing in Dixmoor, held a news conference Sunday morning alongside Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th) and offered up $25,000 in reward money as he launched an organization dedicated to raising funds to help solve shootings that victimize children, women and the elderly.

For Walker, who has his own 1-year-old son, the recent violence has hit close to home.

“It could be our kid next time,” he said. “That’s the mentality that we have to start taking.”

Walker hopes the “high value rewards” incentivize tipsters who would otherwise be afraid to speak out. The rewards will double weekly if no one comes forward, added Walker, who also vowed to use money that’s raised to help cover the legal fees of suspects who turn themselves in before they’re identified.

The latest spate of violence comes after 15 people were killed and 89 others were wounded in shootings last weekend, according to Sun-Times data.

Those grim figures were recorded just three weeks after 18 people were gunned down May 31, marking Chicago’s single-most violent day in six decades. That weekend, 25 people were killed and 85 others were shot as rioting and looting broke out in the wake of the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Walker has also contributed the same amount of money toward a $38,000 reward seeking information about last weekend’s killing of 3-year-old Mekhi James in Austin.

Mekhi James’ touch a picture of him before a press conference on June 24, 2020. Mekhi James, who was three years old, was shot while his father was driving him home on Father’s Day Weekend. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Mekhi James’ touch a picture of him before a press conference on June 24, 2020. Mekhi James, who was three years old, was shot while his father was driving him home on Father’s Day Weekend. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“We’re tired of losing our kids, most importantly, to senseless gun violence,” said Walker, who dubbed his new initiative I’m Telling, Don’t Shoot.

‘We need a plan because people are dying’

State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, also announced the formation of a task force Sunday that seeks “to address the uptick in shootings and violence during these stressful and uncertain times.”

With support from community health care partners, the West Side Behavioral Health Task Force aims to offer support “for those causing violence and those who are victims of violence who are dealing with trauma, stress and depression,” according to a statement.

Ford, who will formally announce the task force during a news conference Monday at Loretto Hospital in Austin, also called on federal, state, county and city leaders to work with the task force, echoing Pfleger’s call for a unified response to the violence.

While Pfleger dismissed President Donald Trump’s recent appeal offering support to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, he said leaders from all levels need to come together to identify ways the federal government can provide resources to help impacted communities.

“We don’t need any more rhetoric or any more talk,” he said. “We need a plan because people are dying.”

But community activist and former aldermanic candidate Raul Montes Jr. said in a Little Village news conference that Chicago’s summer gun violence has overwhelmed police. He criticized Lightfoot and protesters who have called for or supported police defunding and asked for President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress to “intervene” with more federal funding.

“We don’t have enough police officers right now, so why defund the police?” Montes said. “These children, innocent bystanders, are losing their lives because there’s too many guns on the streets. The police, their hands are tied, they feel they can’t do their jobs ... with all the scrutiny.”

Contributing: Ben Pope