CHICAGO

The Denver Post - - NA­TION & WORLD - By Sharon Co­hen

In this deadly year of gun vi­o­lence in Chicago, the tragic be­came the rou­tine: Teens car­ried the cas­kets of friends down church steps. Sob­bing moth­ers hud­dled at can­dle­light vig­ils, pray­ing for an end to the shoot­ings. Po­lice un­furled more yel­low tape to cor­don off an­other mur­der scene.

The city recorded its first fa­tal gun­shot vic­tim just a few hours into 2016. Month after month, the num­bers mounted. More than 100 homi­cides in Jan­uary and February. Around La­bor Day, an­other mile­stone: 500 deaths. By mid-De­cem­ber, Chicago had recorded 740 homi­cides.

Most were on the South and West sides. Most vic­tims were young black men. But Chicago’s epi­demic of gun vi­o­lence — more than 3,400 shoot­ings and about 4,200 vic­tims in all — scars a much wider cir­cle.

Three peo­ple with close-up views — a pas­tor, a doc­tor and a con­gress­man — re­flect on the last­ing and painful im­pact.

The pas­tor

When the Rev. Mar­shall Hatch ar­rived at the scene of a dou­ble homi­cide one spring af­ter­noon, he saw one of his parish­ioners run­ning down an al­ley to­ward him, call­ing his name and clutch­ing a Bi­ble. It had be­longed to her son — the pas­tor had signed it when the young man was bap­tized at his church.

She said it was one of his cher­ished pos­ses­sions. Now her 23-year-old son, Demetrius Tol­liver, was dead. He’d been shot after four gun­men stepped from a van across the street from an el­e­men­tary school and be­gan fir­ing. A woman stand­ing nearby was killed, too. A 17year-old re­puted gang mem­ber has been charged with mur­der. The mo­tive is un­known.

Hatch prayed with Tol­liver’s mother near her house. Later, he wrote a eu­logy for her son. In the months ahead, he would do the same for sev­eral other young gun­shot vic­tims.

Hatch, pas­tor of the New Mount Pil­grim Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church, says this year’s blood­shed has left him reel­ing.

“I’ve been at it 30 years, and I don’t know that I can con­tinue at this pace emo­tion­ally,” he says. “The only way I can re­ally deal with it is see my­self as an out­sider. This is not my way of life. It’s not my fam­ily’s way of life. It’s not the way of life of a lot of peo­ple that I know who are close to me. But I live in the neigh­bor­hood . ... I have to have some sense of de­tach­ment in or­der to serve.”

Hatch’s tow­er­ing lime­stone church — one of its stained glass win­dows fea­tures a slave ship — sits in West Garfield Park, home to one of the city’s high­est homi­cide rates. In his of­fice lined with books, African sculp­tures and civil rights me­men­tos, the pas­tor pon­ders that re­al­ity, sift­ing through glossy fu­neral pro­grams of young vic­tims. He glances at snap­shots of them as happy lit­tle boys and fam­ily recollections of their sons’ mod­est dreams — to at­tend se­nior prom and grad­u­ate from high school — now de­nied.

There was Tol­liver, a for­mer high bas­ket­ball su­per­star; gym shoes were atop his cas­ket. There was Eli­jah Sims, whose fam­ily moved to nearby suburban Oak Park to es­cape the con­stant gun­fire. He was shot in the head while vis­it­ing friends in his old neigh­bor­hood — a day be­fore his 17th birth­day. “You had big plans, but God had one bet­ter,” his mother wrote in a note. “Sleep well baby boy. Momma.”

And there was Demetrius Grif­fin Jr., known as “Nun­nie.” A diminu­tive 15-year-old who loved dogs, he had started high

school just weeks ear­lier. His body was found in a garbage can. His aunt is the church sec­re­tary.

Some fu­ner­als are more than sad; they’re tense, too. Hatch presided at ser­vices for one teen who had been known as a “bad kid.” He’d been shot on a Fri­day, four days after his best friend’s fu­neral. Ru­mors spread that gang vi­o­lence might erupt at this fu­neral. Po­lice were out­side. In­side, Hatch’s se­cu­rity force, called the “Mountain Men,” kept watch. The cer­e­mony was peace­ful.

Hatch re­jects the African-Amer­i­can tra­di­tion to re­gard these fu­ner­als as fes­tive “home­go­ings,” mark­ing the de­ceased’s jour­ney to heaven. “I don’t con­sider it a cel­e­bra­tion,” he says. “It’s sad. It’s trau­matic. It’s ab­nor­mal, and we need to do some­thing about it.”

And although Hatch wor­ries that the vi­o­lence has got­ten so bad that some in his con­gre­ga­tion “don’t see a fu­ture for them­selves in these com­mu­ni­ties,” he says his church re­mains a refuge. “Our doors are still open,” he says. “We pro­vide holy ground in the midst of chaos.”

A man holds a woman at the scene of a Sept. 5 dou­ble shoot­ing in Chicago’s Og­den Park. Forty peo­ple were shot in Chicago this past week­end, and the city’s death toll stands at 740 for the year so far. Erin Hoo­ley, Chicago Tri­bune file

The Rev. Mar­shall Hatch of the New Mount Pil­grim Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church says this year’s gun vi­o­lence in Chicago has left him reel­ing. Charles Rex Ar­bo­gast, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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