A college freshman who hoped to become a correctional officer, gunned down at 4:25 p.m. after getting into an argument in Englewood.
While Chicago was roiled by another day of protests and looting in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, 18 people were killed Sunday, May 31, making it the single most violent day in Chicago in six decades, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The lab’s data doesn’t go back further than 1961.
From 7 p.m. Friday, May 29, through 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, 25 people were killed in the city, with another 85 wounded by gunfire, according to data maintained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
In a city with an international reputation for crime — where 900 murders per year were common in the early 1990s — it was the most violent weekend in Chicago’s modern history, stretching police resources that were already thin because of protests and looting.
“We’ve never seen anything like it at all,” said Max Kapustin, the senior research director at the crime lab. “I don’t even know how to put it into context. It’s beyond anything that we’ve ever seen before.”
The next highest murder total for a single day was on Aug. 4, 1991, when 13 people were killed in Chicago, according to the crime lab.
Pfleger: A time bomb
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a longtime crusader against gun violence who leads St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, said it was “open season” last weekend in his neighborhood and others on the South and West sides.
“On Saturday and particularly Sunday, I heard people saying all over, ‘Hey, there’s no police anywhere, police ain’t doing nothing,’” Pfleger said.
“I sat and watched a store looted for over an hour,” he added. “No police came. I got in my car and drove around to some other places getting looted [and] didn’t see police anywhere.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on May 31 alone, Chicago’s 911 emergency center received 65,000 calls for all types of service — 50,000 more than on a usual day.
Pfleger said the systemic problems that have plagued minority communities for decades — like joblessness, food insecurity and a lack of housing — already were heightened by the COVID-19 outbreak, which he said “made a bad situation worse.”
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Darius and Maurice Jelks were killed on May 31, the most violent day in Chicago in modern history.
Floyd’s killing in Minnesota simply brought further to the fore the “hopelessness and anger” felt by those living in blighted communities, added Pfleger, who said the current unrest reminds him of the rioting that broke out when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
“It’s like a time bomb out here,” Pfleger said. “People are on the edge, people are angry, people are poor, and they don’t even know when it’s going to change.”
If immediate action isn’t taken to address systemic racism, poverty and “black folks being shot down and killed out here like dogs,” Pfleger said the last weekend in May will merely serve as a “coming attraction of what’s going to happen next.”
Most homicide victims in Chicago are young, black men, and the suspects are, too. But murders have fallen significantly in recent years, along with police-involved shootings. There were 764 murders and 12 fatal police-involved shootings in 2016, compared with 492 murders and three fatal police-involved shootings last year.
“The level of activity experienced over the last week has been unprecedented and the Department is actively investigating multiple incidents across the city and working to determine the motives in these cases,” Chicago Police spokesman Thomas Ahern said in a statement. “... The Department is actively working to seek justice for all the residents impacted, especially those who have been killed or injured by these senseless acts of violence.”
Ahern said after “increased violent and criminal activity” on Saturday, May 30, police canceled days off for all officers and placed them on 12-hour shifts in order to direct “our full force of manpower towards Chicago’s neighborhoods, particularly on the South and West Sides.”
‘Positive influence’ slain
The weekend’s death toll includes 21-year-old Gregory Lewis, one of six people killed May 30. Lewis was gunned down early that morning while riding in a vehicle in the 500 block of East 115th Street.
Mustafa Abdullah, Lewis’ former dean at Excel Academy of Roseland, spoke glowingly of his former student, who he described as a “positive influence” and a leader who for a time served as the vice president of the school’s student government.
“He was very helpful at deescalating any situations that had potential to kind of escalate into anything further,” Abdullah said. “He was a really good kid.”
Abdullah said he had a “unique” relationship with Lewis. In addition to joking around and “busting on each other,” Lewis also helped Abdullah acclimate to life in Chicago as he was still adjusting after moving from Philadelphia.
“We would sit and talk in my office for hours just about life,” he said. “So just kind of schooling me on the ins and outs of Chicago, the do’s and don’ts. Just kind of what the young people are going through today as far as neighborhood situations or whatever the case may be.”
In recent years, Abdullah fell out of touch with Lewis but said he knew his former student was trying to launch a rap career.
On Thursday, Abdullah fondly recalled a school trip to Washington, D.C., that he and Lewis went on together.
The pair spent the bus ride down poking fun at each other, which served as a constant source of entertainment for the other students along for the ride. Once in the Capitol, the group toured the historical sites and museums and took in a Washington Wizards game.
“I could tell that he was very humbled and very appreciative of the experience of getting the chance to get out of Chicago for a few days and then kind of, proverbially and actually, just letting his hair down and be able to just be a kid,” he said.
Shot after her own graduation party
For Teyonna Lofton, of Gresham, last Sunday started on a high note. The 18-year-old recently finished her senior year at Perspectives Leadership Academy, and her family was holding a socially distanced graduation parade to honor the occasion.
While the day “started off perfect,” a trip to a gas station at the corner of 81st and Racine — a half-mile south of St. Sabina — later that day quickly turned into the most harrowing experience of her young life.
As she waited in line outside the store, an SUV pulled up and someone inside opened fire into the crowd, striking Lofton and two others. Struck near her elbow, she tried repeatedly to call 911 for help.
“When I needed help, to call the police and stuff, nobody responded. Nobody answered,” Lofton said. “My mom had to come from home, and we had to get to the hospital.”
On the way to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, Lofton peered out her mother’s car window and saw the “madness” that was unfolding outside.
“It was just people jumping out their cars into stores and stealing and looting ... Police was letting them do whatever they wanted,” she said.
“They did not care,” Lofton added. “Nobody cared.”
Because the bullet struck an artery, Lofton was ultimately transferred to the trauma unit at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn for surgery. After being released Wednesday, she now faces months of physical therapy after losing feeling in much of her wounded arm.
Lofton was among the 48 people wounded in shootings across Chicago that day. Though she has worked with Pfleger in the past to advocate against gun violence, Lofton said she plans to increase her efforts now that she’s become a victim.
“I want to really make some noise,” she said.
Late last week, Lofton was concerned that detectives still hadn’t reached out to her about the shooting, which hasn’t been publicly reported by the department.
Police attention diverted: expert
Kapustin of U. of C.’s crime lab said massive upheavals or protests typically require police departments to divert officers to respond to demonstrations.
“When CPD has to turn its attention elsewhere and there’s suddenly this vacuum that opens up, you also unfortunately see a picture like you saw with [last] weekend where you see an absurd amount of carnage, people getting injured and killed,” he said. “Those forces are still there.”
Kapustin said the current situation “lays bare a really nuanced understanding of the role of the police.”
“You have to sort of ask yourself: How are you going to get to a place where you have a police department that people respect and that has earned the trust of the community, but it’s still actually effective at reducing gun violence, which is the thing that plagues a lot of these neighborhoods,” Kapustin said. “And we’re so far right now from getting that figured out.”
‘Great, great deal of anxiety’
Andrew Holmes and Pastor Donovan Price have seen more anguish than most.
Both men respond to crime scenes across the city, offering support and comfort to the families of those killed.
Even for them, the last weekend in May was different.
“I’ve been experiencing a great, great, great, great, great deal of anxiety,” Price said. “I’ve been hurting, I’ve been paining, I’ve been crying, I’ve been losing sleep for the city because I love the city ... And so I’ve been hurting for that, as well as watching it, to a certain level, not self-destruct but definitely take a sip of the poison every now and then.”
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In Price’s view, collaboration between academics, clergy and neighborhood leaders has been lacking in the fight to tamp down violence.
“There’s a difference between swelling and growth, and the amount of programs and nonprofits and town halls and all of those things caused a swelling — mainly of the peoples’ heads who were doing them — in thinking that they’ve got this, they’ve solved this, we’ve got a handle on this,” Price said.
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Even aside from his work in aiding bereaved families, Holmes knows violence all too well. His daughter was shot to death in Indianapolis in 2015. Two years later, a young cousin of his — an 11-year-old girl — was shot and killed in Parkway Gardens on the South Side.
In the last week, Holmes said, he’s felt “kind of numb” and can sometimes struggle to find words of comfort for grieving families.
“Because sometimes when they lose their baby, there’s not a right word that you can say ... especially [to] a mother, a woman,” Holmes said. “It took her nine months to give birth and life to that baby, and it takes a second for a person to discharge that weapon [and] take that person’s life and that’s wrong. That’s a lot of pain.”
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m all right,” he added. “No, I’m not all right because I feel that pain, I feel that suffering that they’re going through.”
Killed while visiting
Angelo Bronson was standing in Englewood’s 6800 block of South Laflin on May 31 when someone fired shots from a passing car, striking him in the chest. The 36-year-old father of two young children was dead less than an hour later.
Bronson had lived in the Washington, D.C., area for many years, where he worked installing solar panels and was remembered by friends as hardworking, humble and quick to laugh. He had come home for the weekend to visit his family who lived in the neighborhood, which he did frequently.
“Just about the last person I could have thought this would happen to was Angelo,” his longtime friend Ali Evans said. “The man was so calm and quick to laugh, too. I just can’t believe we’re talking about him in the past tense.”
Shots fired during looting
John Tiggs, 32, was walking into a Metro PCS at 8100 S. Halsted St. on May 31 to pay his bill, family said, when shots were fired inside the store amid widespread looting on the South Side. Tiggs, who family described as a devoted father of three young children, was struck in the abdomen and died. A 15-year-old boy was also injured. Police said two people initially taken into custody have been released without charges.
“John had a big heart. He was there for us, and [his death] has taken so much from us,” his aunt Marie Marsham said. “When you needed something done, he was the first to be there to help you out.”
2 students among the victims
Other May 31 victims included two 18-year-old women — both students.
Lazarra Daniels, a student at DRW College Prep in Lawndale, was found shot by officers at 10:51 p.m. Sunday in the 4200 block of West Van Buren Street.
Principal Tony Sutton called Daniels’ death “an incalculable loss for her family, and one that will pain those who loved Lazarra for a long time” in a social media post breaking the news to the school’s community.
“I can’t even cry no more I just get mad,” a friend wrote on Facebook about her death.
Keishanay Bolden was enrolled at Western Illinois University, where she was studying law enforcement and justice and hoped to become a correctional officer.
Her campus community remembered her for her outgoing personality and ability to make people laugh.
“Keishanay was a person of determination, intelligence and joy. She had the ability to uplift the mood of anyone near her. A gifted young lady who will be truly missed,” a resident adviser at Lincoln Hall dorm wrote.
Police said Bolden was killed Sunday afternoon when she was shot during an argument in Englewood, where she grew up.
Thinking about her community for a college assignment last year, Bolden touched on the gun violence in her neighborhood, writing: “When one person is hurt everybody is hurt. We all might not hurt the same, but we can feel that pain when one of ours is hurt.”
Contributing: Frank Main