Dionte Jelks hates calls from Chicago — the news is always bad.
The most recent of it came as his hometown experienced its most violent weekend in at least six decades — with 85 people were shot, 24 fatally, between May 28 and 31 — amid spasms of mayhem that followed protests of the killing of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
As Jelks, 42, walked on a beach that evening near his home on Vancouver Island, Canada, he answered his mother’s call to learn that two members of his family were among the 18 people murdered in the city that Sunday.
Jelks said his younger brother Darius Jelks, 31, had just picked up their cousin Maurice Jelks, 39, and were driving to the two brothers’ mother’s home. Chicago police said at 1:40 p.m., while they were waiting at a stoplight in the 1600 block of East 95th St., someone in a dark-colored SUV opened fire, striking both men in the head. They were pronounced dead at the scene.
“I couldn’t even find the words to comfort her,” he said of talking to his mother that night. “I keep asking myself, ‘Who? Why?’”
Both men were funny, spirited and hardworking, he said.
Both were fathers — each raising a young boy and girl.
Maurice worked construction and had just saved up enough to buy his first house. Darius worked long days as a truck driver to support his family.
“They were both working hard to make a better life for their family,” Jelks said. “They’re busy all the time working. We haven’t received any answers from the police, or anything. We just don’t know.
“It weighs heavily on my body.”
A better life in Canada
The news only reaffirmed a decision Jelks says made 10 years ago to move his family north, far from the violence and poverty of the city where he was raised, in order to give them — especially his young son — a chance at a better life.
He’s not sure he’ll ever step foot in the United States again.
Jelks grew up in Englewood and taught in Chicago Public Schools and the south suburbs before moving to Canada, where he’s the principal at a secondary school in Ladysmith, British Columbia.
“You get a feeling of unease when you come back to the U.S.,” he says. “You’re constantly looking over your shoulder.”
That doesn’t happen where he lives now.
“You don’t hear about mass shootings, killings here,” Jelks said. “It just does not exist here.”
Before moving, Jelks lived on the South Side with his wife and said he had grown desensitized to the city’s violence.
“This is not normal, people shouldn’t live like this,” Jelks said.
Like many parents of black children, he’s had “the talk” with his son about what to do if he is stopped by police — in America.
“I said, if we ever go to the U.S., this is what you have to be aware of. Where I’m at here, in [British Columbia], all my interactions with police have been very friendly.”
Jelks recalled experiencing a police roadblock while living in Canada.
“I had my wallet on the dashboard, my ID out ... stuck my hands out the window and the officer said ‘What are you doing? You don’t have to do that here.’
“I was completely shocked.”
The last time he was in Chicago, Jelks said he sat down with his relatives and talked about moving them from the city. He now said he wants to bring his mother, sister and two nephews to Canada and plans to apply for asylum for his family through the Canadian government.
“There’s legislation here in Canada where they could seek asylum, because I know I’m going to keep getting phone calls, about murders. ... I’m tired of phone calls. I want my family to have a better life.”
Most times, when you hear about people seeking asylum, it’s to come to the United States from violence-stricken countries that seem far away. That’s how Jelks sees Chicago now.
“My wife is from El Salvador. I felt more safe in El Salvador than I felt on the South Side of Chicago. And that’s a third-world country.”