‘It needs to come to an end:’ Memorial held for third child killed by vehicles in 3 weeks

J’alon James was hit and killed just half a block from his home.

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Family members, friends and residents gather for a balloon release and memorial for 11-year-old Ja’lon James on 18th Street and South Avers Avenue, Friday, June 17, 2022. James was killed in a hit and run on June 16th in the 3300 block of West 16th Street.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

About 100 people gathered in Lawndale Friday to release balloons in memory of 11-year-old Ja’lon James, who was killed in a hit and run Thursday morning.

Police cameras captured a car speed through a yellow light at Homan and 16th before hitting Ja’lon as he and his brother crossed the street. Ja’lon was dragged half a block down 16th Street before the driver stopped briefly at Christiana Avenue then fled the scene, just half a block from the boys’ home.

The gathering wasn’t just a memorial but rather a celebration of Ja’lon’s life, his aunt Nykia Harrison said. After releasing a variety of colored balloons, the group began barbecuing burgers and hot dogs.

“We’re celebrating his life, his happiness, the things he used to enjoy,” Harrison said, listing off his interest in basketball, boxing and dance.

Despite the celebratory nature of the event, a memorial to Ja’lon — including a stuffed elephant with floppy ears and bouquets of flowers — sat less than a mile away, prompting nearby residents to voice concern about the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

David Little, a 30-year Lawndale resident who said he witnessed the hit and run, said the street needed “all of that” when it comes to street safety measures, such as stop signs and speed cameras.

Lawndale resident Iftin Abdi Bashir said she understood the pain the boy’s family was going through because her sister was temporarily paralyzed after a hit-and-run accident, adding a camera was needed “on every block.”

Harrison said something needs to be done to prevent future tragedies.

“They need to do something about it,” Harrison said. “Next time, who knows? [What if] someone hit three, four people and kill them, then what?”

The area where Ja’lon was hit has seen multiple fatal hit and runs in recent years: one in 2019 that killed a 51-year-old woman and another in 2020 that killed a 21-year-old woman.

Citywide, Ja’lon was the third child to be killed by drivers in Chicago in three weeks.

On June 2, 2-year-old Rafi Cardenas was struck and killed by a driver while riding a mini-scooter in Lincoln Square. A week later, 3-year-old Lily Grace died after she was run over by a semi driver in Uptown. She was riding in her mother’s bike carrier and fell under the wheels of the truck.

The children’s deaths have caused a call for change, and in Lily’s case, the demands have focused on bike lanes.

While Ja’lon’s grandmother Nicole Harrison said she was “hoping and praying” his death leads to change, she said she wasn’t sure what would help.

“To be honest with you, the speed cameras and speed bumps, I don’t even think that would help,” Nicole Harrison said. “We still have speed bumps out here that you see people flying, they go right over them. I don’t know what the solution is, but it needs to come to an end.”

Police said no one was in custody, though the vehicle had been recovered after it was found abandoned on another street in Lawndale.

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