Tyesa Cherry is forever 16, frozen in time. She lies in a rose-pink casket, nestled in her red wool blanket, next to her white teddy bear.
Tyesa should be 40 now. But she was murdered. Shot dead here in Chicago, B.C. — Before Chiraq.
Charles Thompson would be 38. But he is forever 13, fatally shot in January 1990 while walking home from school.
Rashonda Flowers would be 25. Instead she is frozen at six months old — struck in the head by a bullet fired by two teens testing their rifle as her mother pushed her in a stroller on the South Side. That was what I reported 25 years ago.
Dantrell Davis was fatally shot at 7. Myron Turner at 10. Robert “Yummy” Sandifer at 11. Desiree Owens at 19. Terrell Collins at 14. Aaron Martinez, at 15, by a 19-year-old alleged gang member who shoved a .38-caliber revolver in Aaron’s face and pulled the trigger, the bullet severing his brain stem.
There is a litany of victims, who, since I began covering homicide in this city as a journalist in 1989, were gunned down, mostly in Chicago streets. Some of their stories I carry in a black leather portfolio of now yellowing or else laminated newspaper clips.
Their names have faded from headlines, vanished from the public psyche, like blood washed away from a sidewalk by a hard summer’s rain.
No matter how sensational the circumstances surrounding their slayings, these frozen forever young, over time, have been forgotten by most. But not by mothers like Delphine Cherry, Tyesa’s mom, who, in recent years, also lost her son Tyler to murder.
For mothers of murdered children especially, birthdays, Mother’s Day, holidays —sometimes every day — are reminders of their loss.
I have not forgotten Tyesa or the others, even after all these years of covering the story that won’t go away: Murder — once fueled by the war over drug territories and crack; to this senseless random violence in so-called Chiraq; to the current swirling sea of animus over the unsavory moniker.
Chicago is not a war zone, some say. This fair city doesn’t deserve that name. It’s an over-exaggeration. An aberration.
They worry it will harm the city’s reputation, impact tourism, hurt business.
Truth is, some seem more incensed about the potential loss of money than the loss of lives. I recognize the hypocrisy.
“You make the West Side sound like Beirut,” a “friend” wrote to me some years ago about my writings on violence in Chicago. The friend went on to explain how they had visited the West Side numerous times and never heard gunfire, never seen a body drop.
I explained, knowing full well that I would lose a friend: You don’t live here. . . . We know where the blood once stained the streets. Where the bodies fell.
We have smelled the gun smoke. Witnessed the chaos. Felt the rush of fear. Prayed. Exhaled when the shooting stopped. Cried at the funerals.
It is easy to pontificate from the other side. To talk about violent crime being down when you are blind to the innumerable, invisible corpses through the years still lying in the streets. It’s easy to talk when you have never lived over here, only over there.
But you can’t argue with the facts: More than 17,000 murdered in Chicago since 1989, 5,595 alone from 2003 to 2014. More than double the 2,215 U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan, according to the U.S. Defense Department. More than 4,412 U.S. military casualties in Iraq since 2003.
More than enough reasons to end this scourge.
And yet, I’ll give you just one: Tyesa.