John Fountain: Tears for Chicago’s murdered children


Tears. More tears. Through the years, tears.

As I stood this week inside St. Sabina Church, where Tyshawn Lee’s body lay in a child-sized, shiny red casket with two orange basketballs, his eyes forever sealed in mortal sleep, at age 9, I didn’t have to know him in order to “feel.”


I was a crime reporter in this city long before it became Chiraq. I have covered the funerals of more children than I can count — names mostly forgotten by the public since fading from headlines.

I’ve been at this for more than 25 years. I am well acquainted with murder and sorrow and the sordid, often unfathomable details. I have inhaled the aftermath of blood, chaos and gun smoke.

I covered Robert “Yummy” Sandifer’s funeral. Shavon Dean, murdered at 14. Derrion Albert, at 16. Robert Freeman, at 13. Frances Colon, at 18. Jonylah Watkins, at 6 months.

And yet, as I walked from the front of the church to find a seat moments before Tyshawn’s services began, I found my stride stiffening, as if I was warring against a strong wind. I seemed to be moving almost in slow motion, fighting back tears over the execution of a child by murderous thugs.

I managed to not cry outwardly. But I allowed the pain and circumstance of hundreds of mourners who gathered to bid farewell to yet another young life extinguished to marinate in my own soul. To ingest the unthinkable, in hopes of finding some way, some words, to help spur change. To help make “them” remember this one. This time. Just maybe.

I am familiar with the cycle of forgetfulness that soon swallows up the latest horror. I have had my conscience shocked time and again. And yet, I still feel.

This is by design, a conscious decision I made long ago — understanding that my humanity and my ability as a writer to transmit a sense of loss and tragedy are irrevocably connected to my ability to feel.

“No tears in the writer, no tears for the reader…” Robert Frost wrote.

I want to feel. It reminds me that I am alive. That I have not become hopelessly jaded. That my conscience has not been seared. That cynicism and skepticism have their place in good journalism but can also be detrimental to a writer’s soul.

Here lately, I wonder whether Chicago still feels. Whether Chicago still remembers: Dantrell Davis, 7; Charles Thompson, 13; Desiree Owens, 19; Tyesa Cherry, 16; Terrell Collins, 14; Rashonda Flowers, 6 months…

Do you remember, Chicago?

Le Twan Redmond, 14?

Stevie Perry, 10?

Robert Anderson III, 4?

Tanaja Stokes, 8?

Heaven Sutton, 7?

Charinez Jefferson, 17?

Antonio Smith, 9, and countless others?

It is a question that lingers, even as the family of Kaylyn Pryor prepare this weekend to lay to rest their 20-year-old daughter whose career as a model, and, most importantly, her life, were snuffed out by an assassin’s bullet intended for another on Nov. 2 — the same day Tyshawn was murdered.

I wonder: Can Chicago still feel? Will Chicago remember Tyshawn? Kaylyn?

Amid the death and dismemberment of a baby boy — parts of his body dumped in a West Side lagoon this summer; amid news this week of a newborn murdered and left out on the street, in the cold; amid more shootings and more killings, have we finally reached our limit and resolved at last to end this scourge by any means necessary?

Or will it be just another day in Chiraq?

As the small black hearse cart rolled by, carrying Tyshawn’s red casket, I had no words. Only tears.


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