By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The sad boy near the casket has experienced so much grief and death for someone his age. At a double funeral on August 3, he stood over the caskets of his uncle, Tremell Thomas, 22, and Thomas’ best friend, Parish McKenzie, 21.
The two men were inseparable friends who died the same way they had lived: enjoying a strong brotherhood that only death could break. At the Truth and Deliverance Church on the West Side, they shared an intense, emotional homegoing service that made the service special for the two grieving families they brought together.
Thomas and McKenzie’s last day on earth was July 22.
They were among seven men sitting on a park bench in the East Garfield Park neighborhood when four men approached them and sprayed them with bullets. The shooters fled the scene in an unidentified stolen vehicle and got away with a crime that like many of its kind may never be solved.
Some 48 bullet shell casings were found at the crime scene.
Thomas and McKenzie died at the new adult trauma center at the University of Chicago Medicine. The rest of the men survived their injuries.
The Black Souls and the Gangster Disciples street gangs are reportedly at war with each other in East Garfield Park. It’s not clear whether any of those who were shot are gang members, but as a group, they became a target of four shooters who wanted all of them dead.
Shootings and homicides are a part of everyday life on the South and West Sides of Chicago, but lately the mayhem has hit a new low. Mass shooting is the new thing that has turned social gatherings and group events into bloodbaths, posing a bigger challenge to the Chicago Police Department that has solved less than 18 percent of murders in 2017.
Gangs and criminals are making a bigger statement in shooting multiple people together. In the past several weeks, they have attacked groups of people socializing in parks, backyard barbeques and at neighborhoods events. Group gatherings are now a big concern for Chicago Police as thousands prepare to attend the 89th Bud Billiken Parade.
Last weekend, 72 people were shot and 12 died over three days of gunfire that left Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel pleading for witnesses to come forward and help them put criminals behind bars.
In the past two years, there have been more than 1,400 homicides and 6,200 shootings. The number of murders this year declined 20 percent, with 325 homicides. Last weekend’s violence reminded the city that it still had far to go in keeping its citizens alive and safe.
On August 7, Johnson said 430 officers have been added to patrol the hardest hit districts on the South and West Sides. He went on to say that number will go up to 600 by the weekend.
With the surge in gunfire, many incidents involved mass shootings. Between midnight and 3 a.m., there were five mass shootings in which three or more people were shot. The mass shooting that killed Thomas and McKenzie occurred two weeks prior to last weekend’s deadly surge in gunfire.
There was a time when mass shootings led evening newscasts and made big headlines. Had any of the recent mass shootings occurred at Navy Pier or on Michigan Avenue, the outrage and news coverage would be much greater.
On a national level, three people died and seven were injured on July 29, when someone sprayed a crowd in a predominantly Black neighborhood in New Orleans. All of the victims were Black, but the story barely made national headlines months after three Black people were killed at a Waffle House in Nashville, TN.
After public outcry that he acknowledge a customer’s heroism, President Donald Trump called James Shaw—the Black man who tackled 29-year-old Travis Reinking after he shot four people, including three Blacks.
If there are still questions of whether Chicago’s gun violence is out of control, the growing number of random mass shootings should end the debate. Whether these mass shootings throughout the city will force police, leaders and citizens to take a more urgent and different approach to long-standing problems remains to be seen.
On Monday, Emanuel and Johnson pleaded with residents to speak out and help them identify criminals. “You all know who these individuals are, they come into your homes every day, sleep with you every night,” Johnson said. “Grandparents, parents, siblings, significant others—you know who they are.”
Congressman Bobby L. Rush (D-1st) said Emanuel needs to “get real.”
“I am sick and tired of the scenes of violence and grief that are constantly taking place over and over again in our schools and neighborhoods. It is past time for action and common-sense solutions. That is why I’m happy to see Senator (Tammy) Duckworth join me in reintroducing Blair’s Bill. Because there is only one common thread across the gun violence epidemic in America: guns,” said Rush.
Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-2nd), vice chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and author of the “Kelly Report on Gun Violence in America,” said, “We cannot allow this violence to become normalized, nor can we allow it to keep us from fighting for life-saving policy change and investment in our communities. This violence must end.”
In a statement released by Alderman Willie Cochran (20th), he said, “We must convince people how important it is to prevent a crime. How important it is to help solve a crime. Underserved communities exist by design. That design work has yielded some unflattering results to our neighborhoods and many of the residents of those communities.”
Commenting on the weekend’s carnage, 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale said, “As I have said before, I, now again, am calling for the allocation of resources and police officers where they are needed the most in the neighborhoods and on the streets where the menace of gun violence poses the greatest threat to staining innocent lives; not merely putting more police where they are wanted. It’s time to listen more closely to the studies that prove the investment in mental health, affordable housing, youth development, jobs and living wages are the things that will stabilize our communities, make them healthy and are arguably more effective than more policing and jail cells.”
On August 7, Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-7th), who, two days prior visited John Stroger Hospital to console families of gun violence, held a press conference. The group is demanding that at least 10 percent of all government funding be spent in neighborhoods where at least 20 percent of the population has lived below the poverty level in the past 30 years.
All the rhetoric is no consolation to the young boy (and others like him) grieving the deaths of Thomas and McKenzie. Actions speak louder than words, and it will be the actions of people in the community that will turn the tide of death that is destroying families, communities, and the nation.