CHICAGO — People in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood have become used to the shootings that have plagued much of Chicago’s South Side for decades.
But even here, the killing of a 9-year-old boy came as a terrible shock.
“This caught everyone off guard,” said Kirk McKinney, who has lived here for 44 years. “Coming home in broad daylight and you just assassinate a child. … I’ve never seen anything this violent since I have been here. Never.”
Even prominent members of the gangs allegedly involved in Tyshawn Lee’s Nov. 2 slaying question how the 9-year-old could wind up dead in an alley, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois, told CNN affiliate WLS after visiting gang members at U.S. Penitentiary Florence ADMAX in Colorado.
Larry Hoover and Abdul Malik Kabah, formerly Jeff Fort, are founders of the Gangster Disciples and Black P. Stone Nation street gangs, respectively. Rush visited them in the supermax, where Hoover is serving a sentence for murder and Kabah for terrorism-related charges, according to the station.
“They knew about it and were appalled at it,” Rush told WLS, adding that the men told him to convey a message for them: “Use my name. Tell those youngsters to stop the killing.”
A community that is hard to shock
Tyshawn, who was shot multiple times in the face and back, was laid to rest Tuesday at St. Sabina Church. His body arrived at the church in a small casket, made for a fourth-grader, WLS reported.
“Tyshawn was on his way to play basketball at the park down the street from his grandmother’s house,” the Rev. Michael Pfleger told the crowd gathered at his church. “Our children have a right to walk our streets. Our children have a right to play in the park. Our children have a right to sit on their porch. Our children have a right to expect to be safe wherever they are in the city of Chicago. Our children deserve that. Tyshawn was doing what every child has a right to do: be a child.”
A photo on the church’s website shows the boy in a yellow polo shirt, smiling and wearing a backpack.
“Tyshawn Lee was murdered in probably the most abhorrent, cowardly, unfathomable crime that I’ve witnessed in 35 years of policing,” Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters last week.
The child was targeted, McCarthy said, because his father was a member of a gang that was in conflict with another gang.
The father, Pierre Stokes, is not cooperating with police. The Chicago Tribune said Stokes disagreed with what police have said about him but did not talk specifically about whether he belonged to a gang.
It takes a lot to shock people here. This year alone, police say, more than 390 people in Chicago have been killed, and 2,500 have been shot.
Gangs fight over single city blocks
In the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, where Tyshawn was shot to death, gangs battle over turf and the right to sell drugs on a particular city block.
Many residents here will tell you they would not be surprised to hear of innocent victims caught in the crossfire. But they say the targeting of a 9-year-old breaks new and horrifying ground.
Deronce Curd said he believes gangs may now be going after children on purpose.
“How can a little boy, 9 years old, defend himself?” Curd asked. “I’ve grown up in Chicago most of my life. This is just — I’m speechless to what is going on right now.”
A code of silence
There is a code of silence here, no doubt reinforced by fear.
Pfleger, the priest, has offered to relocate any witnesses who feel that talking to police will put them in danger.
The situation is so dire that Pfleger appealed on CNN for a return to the harsh street justice of days gone by.
“There was a code some years ago that if a person, gang member or not, killed a child on the street, they had to be worried about themselves not being killed by the street, and when they went to prison being killed, because these are things you just don’t do.”
“That code has been removed,” he said. “There are no boundaries.”