Light­foot, Supt. Brown con­demn an­other weekend of slain chil­dren

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY SAM CHARLES, STAFF RE­PORTER scharles@sun­ | @samjcharle­s Con­tribut­ing: Mitch Dudek, Carly Behm and Em­manuel Ca­mar­illo

In what’s be­come a macabre rou­tine, city lead­ers Mon­day found them­selves forced to lament, mourn and con­demn the weekend killings of chil­dren in Chicago.

Shoot­ings over the Fourth of July hol­i­day weekend left 15 peo­ple dead and an­other 64 wounded in the city, ac­cord­ing to a tally main­tained by the Chicago Sun-Times. Two of those killed were kids: 7-year-old Natalia Wal­lace in Austin and 14-year-old Ver­nado Jones Jr. in En­gle­wood.

It was the third con­sec­u­tive weekend in Chicago in which at least two chil­dren were slain, though both Mayor Lori Light­foot and Po­lice Supt. David Brown urged the pub­lic to not “nor­mal­ize these cir­cum­stances.”

“I want all of us to feel this loss. It feels per­sonal to me,” Light­foot said at an un­re­lated news conference. “Thoughts and pray­ers are sim­ply not enough at this point. Sor­row it­self is not enough. And what it says is we need to do bet­ter as a city this day, this year and re­ally every day. There’s no rea­son we should be feel­ing and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mo­ments like this.”

“We sim­ply must fun­da­men­tally recom­mit our­selves to fo­cus­ing on the root causes of the violence. It is every bit a pub­lic health cri­sis as COVID-19, and we can never lose sight of that fact.”

In re­cent weeks, Brown has grown in­creas­ingly vo­cal in his crit­i­cisms of the Cook County crim­i­nal jus­tice ap­pa­ra­tus. He has called for re­vi­sions to the county’s home mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem and de­cried the fre­quency with which peo­ple charged with gun-re­lated crimes are re­leased be­fore trial.

“There’s no con­se­quences to il­le­gal gun pos­ses­sion in our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem,” Brown said dur­ing a news conference at the CPD’s train­ing acad­emy. “My hopes are that the deaths of these young peo­ple won’t be in vain and will prick the hearts of the de­ci­sion-mak­ers who re­lease vi­o­lent of­fend­ers on elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing back into these very com­mu­ni­ties to mete out this kind of violence every weekend.”

On Mon­day evening, CPD Chief of De­tec­tives Bren­dan Deeni­han an­nounced that one man had been charged with mur­der in con­nec­tion with Natalia’s death. Regi­nald Mer­rill, who po­lice be­lieve was the driver of the get­away ve­hi­cle, was charged with first-de­gree mur­der and ag­gra­vated bat­tery. Mer­rill, 33, is ex­pected to have his first court hear­ing Tues­day, and po­lice are still search­ing for three more sus­pects, ac­cord­ing to Deeni­han.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors tracked Mer­rill’s ve­hi­cle through a video and ar­rested him about 9:15 p.m. Satur­day in the 1000 block of North Pine Av­enue, po­lice said. De­tec­tives be­lieve the shoot­ing may have been in re­tal­i­a­tion for an ear­lier homi­cide.

Along with Ver­nado, three other peo­ple were killed and four more wounded in the Satur­day night shoot­ing at 61st and Car­pen­ter.

Two other boys, 11 and 15, were among those in­jured. No ar­rests have been made.

Deeni­han said both shoot­ings were the byprod­uct of area gang con­flicts.

A lit­tle more than week ago, 1-year-old Sin­cere A. Gas­ton was killed when some­one opened fire on his mother’s car in En­gle­wood. Lena Nunez, 10, was killed in Lo­gan Square when a bul­let came through her win­dow.

Over Fa­ther’s Day weekend, 3-year-old Mekhi James was fa­tally shot while rid­ing in an SUV with his step­fa­ther in Austin when some­one opened fire on them from an­other ve­hi­cle. Amaria Jones, 13, died af­ter she was struck by a stray bul­let in a shoot­ing that also wounded two boys on the West Side. They were among 104 peo­ple shot that weekend, 15 fa­tally.

Though Brown re­peat­edly said Mon­day that he doesn’t “want to be the per­son that’s point­ing the fin­ger,” he noted other parts of the county jus­tice sys­tem — the chief judge’s of­fice and sher­iff — do not face the same scru­tiny when it comes to ad­dress­ing gun violence in Chicago.

“Chicago de­serves us fig­ur­ing this out. And we can. Chicago can do this,” Brown said. “But not if it’s only the Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment, only the su­per­in­ten­dent, stand­ing at the podium every weekend, an­swer­ing these ques­tions. This has to be an all-hand­son-deck [sce­nario], every­one in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem be­ing held ac­count­able in the same ways Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers are.”

Brown had a meet­ing last week with the lead­ers of the Chicago of­fices of the FBI, DEA, ATF and U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice for the North­ern District of Illinois, ask­ing for their help in tamp­ing down Chicago shoot­ings by bring­ing more gun cases to the fed­eral level, ac­cord­ing to sources fa­mil­iar with the meet­ing.

Cook County Sher­iff Tom Dart’s of­fice re­leased a state­ment Mon­day say­ing: “The sher­iff is com­mit­ted to com­bat­ing violence and has al­ways be­lieved in­di­vid­u­als charged with gun-re­lated or vi­o­lent crimes should re­main in jail while await­ing trial to en­sure the safety of the pub­lic. De­ci­sions about bond amounts and con­di­tions of bond — in­clud­ing which in­di­vid­u­als are placed on elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing — rest solely with the ju­di­ciary.”

The of­fice of Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans pointed to an opin­ion piece that Evans au­thored last year in which he said crit­i­cism of pre­trial jus­tice prac­tices in Cook County is “mis­lead­ing be­cause pre­trial de­fen­dants re­leased on bond are not driv­ing the weekend crime statistics.”

And Mary Wis­niewski, a spokes­woman for Evans, said in an email, “If this is a dis­cus­sion about re­sources for pre­trial pro­grams, Chief Judge Evans wel­comes ideas to strengthen ser­vices for those who qual­ify for re­lease while their cases are pend­ing and they are pre­sumed in­no­cent.”

Ver­nado Jones Jr.

Natalia Wal­lace

Ver­nado Jones Jr.

Natalia Wal­lace

Regi­nald Mer­rill

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