I did not expect to come across this. Not on a bright sunny day in the city of my birth, where my only goal was to explore Chicago’s elevated 606 biking and walking trail, and reacquaint myself with some of the city’s more colorful neighborhoods.
But I was naïve, maybe even in denial. The city of today is not the city I knew 50 years ago. Besides, I now live comfortably 160 miles to the south of the city in a small town of 5,000.
When I descended from the 606 into the Humboldt Park neighborhood I found myself in the “Tunnel of Blessings,” a memorial honoring 14 victims of gun violence. The victims were blessings to their families, and to those of us aged folks that depend on the vitality of youth to inject their energetic idealism into a world that desperately needs it. But the chill that I felt under the viaduct that moment made me want to rename it the “Tunnel of Sorrow.”
Three Children Killed
Ten-year-old Lena Marie Nuñez-Anaya was indeed a blessing to her family and her friends. On July 27, 2020, Lena was watching television with her brother at their grandmother’s home in the Logan Square neighborhood. She was killed when a stray bullet came through the window. Apparently, a group of guys were shooting at each other down the street.
Seven-year-old Heaven Sutton was shot and killed on the same June date in 2012 on Chicago’s West Side. She was playing in her yard when a Four Corners Hustlers’ gang member was trying to murder a rival gang member. The shooter was sentenced to 60 years in prison at Illinois taxpayers’ expense. At the sentencing, Heaven’s mother said to reporters, “I wanted life, I didn’t want 60 years. I’m doing life myself. … You kill a 7-year-old, a little girl, I rather wanted it to be spelled out. L-I-F-E.”
Aliyah Shell was a six-year-old sitting with her mother and two-year-old sister on her front porch in the Little Village neighborhood in March of 2012 when a couple of teens pulled up in a pickup truck, yelled out some Latin King’s gangster word salad, and opened fire. Her mother, Diana Aguilar, was combing Aliyah’s beautiful curly hair at the time. She said, “Their thing was to kill. To kill what? My 6-year-old? What did she do to you? What did she do to the world? What did she do to anybody, but smile? Be a good kid? Love school? Just love life? She doesn’t have that opportunity anymore, because they took it from her.”
Three children killed. Three kids of color whose time on this earth added up to a measly 23 years. They are irreplaceable blessings, and their lives should not be disappeared into the short-attention-span rhetoric among politicians that usually follows a fatal shooting.
Child Shot Every Hour
Last week the Washington Post published a story that should give every American pause. The article stated that here in this overly gun-permissive nation, a child is shot each and every hour. Twenty-four hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, and approximately 672 hours in a month. Do the math and ask yourself if that is acceptable.
Apparently, to the majority of our Congress — who act as if their lives, not the lives of children, are in danger because blood money from the National Rifle Association will vanish if they pass sensible gun laws — a child sacrificed at the altar of the misinterpreted Second Amendment is the price we must pay.
“Many survive,” the Post article continued, “but many others do not. In the nation’s capital, nine children were killed in gun homicides last year. In Los Angeles, 11 were fatally shot. In Philadelphia: 36. In Chicago: 59. Those figures don’t include the hundreds of other kids who died in accidental shootings and by suicide.” Then there is the immeasurable ripple of grief through families, friends, and into a growing national cauldron of sadness.
Gun Violence in Chicago
In 2021, Chicago had another horrible year of gun deaths: according to the Chicago Police Department, 797 gunned down, 25 more than in 2020, and a number of gun deaths not witnessed in the city since 1996. However, the Cook County medical examiner’s office put that figure at 1,000 because, unlike the CPD, they include fatal shooting in self-defense and, no surprise, fatal shootings by their own officers.
The medical examiner’s office said that 80 percent of the victims were Black, and that “86 homicide deaths were under the age of 18; 12 were under the age of 10.” Gunshot victims totaled 4,300.
Despite tough gun laws in Chicago, weapons pour in from neighboring states like Indiana, which do not have those same stringent laws. Some 12,000 firearms were seized in 2021 by the CPD, an increase of 61 percent over 2020. Out of those 12,000 confiscated, 706 were assault weapons.
Therein lies the problem. Without uniform federal laws that can override politically-motivated lax state codes, the guns will continue to proliferate across state lines into our city’s neighborhoods.
What it also means is more precious young lives such as Lena, Heaven, and Aliyah will be senselessly snuffed out. Even when they are in the loving arms of their parents.
Is this what we feel we have the right to bear?
POSTSCRIPT: On Saturday, January 22, at approximately 2:45 in the afternoon, 8-year-old Melissa Ortega was shot in the head while walking with her mother in the Little Village neighborhood. She nor her mother were the intended target. Melissa was later pronounced dead.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.