CHICAGO (AP) – Armed with an assault rifle, assailants indiscriminately sprayed a crowded Chicago park with bullets during a neighborhood basketball game. A 3-year-old boy was struck in the face, among 13 people wounded during the apparent gang shooting.
Thursday night’s attack occurred just between areas police have flooded with officers, demonstrating the difficulty of trying to contain all of the city’s gang hotspots. It also reignited outrage over the toll of Chicago’s gun violence, the perpetrators’ disregard for those caught in the crossfire, and the inability of even stepped-up police action to prevent such setbacks.
On Friday, residents grappling for answers decried the invasion of drugs and a lack of local leaders, a prominent rap artist said more must be done to understand the city’s youth, and a frustrated police chief again called for tougher gun laws.
“We can do a lot of really good policing. ... We can reduce crime, like we’re doing, but we’re not going to have success occur as long as these guns keep flowing into our community,” police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said during a news conference.
“Illegal guns, illegal guns, illegal guns drive violence,” he said as he called on lawmakers to toughen the nation’s gun laws.
The recent shooting happened shortly after 10 p.m. in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, on the city’s southwest side, in Cornell Square Park, which was crowded with people watching a neighborhood basketball game and enjoying a warm late-summer night.
The assailants used a 7.62 mm rifle fed by a high-capacity magazine, a type of weapon that belongs on a “battlefield, not on the street or a corner or a park in the Back of the Yards,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said officers were “interviewing a number of people” but there was no one whom he would describe as being in police custody.
Among those hit was 3-year-old Deonta Howard, who was shot in the face, and two teenagers, a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old.
Deonta was alert when he arrived at the hospital and was apparently doing well, his family and friends said early Friday. He was in critical condition, as were two other shooting victims. The others were in serious or fair condition when taken to hospitals, according to the Chicago Fire Department; hospital officials declined to provide updates Friday evening.
“It’s devastating,” said 63-year-old Morris Shadrach Davis, one of the boy’s relatives. He said one of the boy’s uncles was fatally shot during a violent Labor Day weekend in the city that claimed a total of eight lives and left 20 others wounded.
“We are not a bad family,” he said, struggling to make sense of his family’s double tragedy and the larger tragedy unfolding in the city.
“The black community is really messed up now,” he said at his home on the city’s West Side. “We had leaders before. ... Drugs have infiltrated our community. We as a people have been totally forgotten.”
In response to a surge in violence last year, the police department stepped up its crime-fighting efforts, including paying overtime to add patrols to some neighborhoods, including the Back of the Yards. Through the first six months of 2013, the department had spent more than $57 million on overtime for officers, more than half of it from a program that saturates dangerous neighborhoods with hundreds of officers every night.
The park where the shooting took place slipped through the cracks. Police said they had “impact zones,” with intensified patrols, three blocks north and three blocks south of the park.
But police were well aware that the area was what McCarthy called “a high-gang conflict zone.” Some of the victims were gang members, McCarthy said, but detectives were not clear on the intended target.
Violent crime is down this year in Chicago compared with 2012, when homicides surged past 500 for the first time since 2008. Police have recorded 305 homicides so far this year, 21 percent fewer than the 389 slayings recorded over the same period last year.
The hip hop artist Common, a Chicago native who has spoken eloquently about his hometown’s violence, said the city needs to better understand its young people and be more consistent in its efforts to help them. Speaking at a city-sponsored summit aimed at helping local musicians develop their careers, he noted that while the violence remains a problem, so does increasing poverty and other hardships that families face.
“It makes me think I got to do more, we got to do more,” said Common, who has a foundation that helps expose disadvantaged young people to the creative arts. “Young people, we have to meet them where they are. Some of them may not be in a place where they can say, ‘OK I’m going to stop.’ It may be a process. You have to deal with that.”
Some residents responded with resilience.
At the park where the shooting took place, two men with a well-worn basketball came onto the courts Friday afternoon to proclaim the site safe.
“We’re not going to let an act of evil discourage us,” T.T. Turner, pastor at Mount Sinai Baptist Church, said as he shot baskets with Cleo Miller, a 26-year-old with Michael Jordan “Jumpman” logo earrings.
“Those that did this will be caught,” Turner said.