Chicago’s gang ridden neighborhoods should collude with their churches and hold funerals elsewhere
Chicago, IL – You know there’s something wrong with a community when a shooting takes place during funeral services on church grounds. But that’s exactly what occurred Monday around 12:30 p.m. local time, just as hundreds of mourners were leaving St. Columbanus Church on Chicago’s south side.
As people were exiting the funeral services held for slain reputed gang member, James Holman, 32; witnesses say, shots rang out, causing panic and chaos as people scattered for the exits.
During the commotion that followed, a woman knocked Deborah Echols-Moore, 59, to the floor and fell atop her. Reportedly, her shoes were thrown off her feet. Once Echols-Moore was able to stand back up, she wasted no time, but ran barefoot out a door. “When I came outside, you still can hear shooting. Boom! Boom! Boom! I still ran, [while] people were running behind me,” the longtime CTA employee told reporters. “You didn’t know which way to go or what to do. All I knew to do was run for my life.”
Mary Sistrunk said her son, 21-year-old Sherman Miller, was killed in the shooting inside the Catholic church. Another man, 26-year-old, Deonte Ousley, was rushed to surgery in critical condition.
Police said both Miller and Ousley are “convicted felons and had a gang affiliation.”
Sistrunk said she lost another son in a similar incident about four years ago and said she told Miller he needed to “let go of those people and get with God.”
Police identified both men as members of the infamous Chicago Gangster Disciples. In addition, the two are convicted felons, which illustrates once again the high risks of gang membership in a year in which rising homicides have brought Chicago unwanted national attention.
Gangster Disciples alone make up more than a quarter of the city’s approximately 470 homicide victims. About 60 percent of this year’s homicide victims were gang members, according to police department statistics.
Officers were still investigating who was responsible for the shooting, but investigators said the neighborhood has long been rife with conflict between Gangster Disciples and rival Black Disciples.
Ironically just hours before the incident, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy had been touting the department’s crime-fighting strategies in tamping down the city’s rate of violence since earlier in the year when homicides reportedly soared. Through Sunday, homicides have risen more than 19 percent over the same period a year earlier, department records show.
This tragic event certainly illustrates the sudden and often unpredictable nature of violence throughout Chicago’s south side.
There were five fewer homicides during the first 25 days of November compared to the same period in 2011, according to department statistics. But shootings during the first 25 days of this month have risen sharply by 45 percent.
From November 1 through Sunday there were 161 shootings compared to 111 during the same period in 2011, department statistics show.
Rev. Corey Brooks, a well-known South Side pastor who officiated at Monday’s services for James Holman, 32, said a church would have been off-limits for gangbangers at one time.
“Now we are living at a day and time where these younger criminals have no regard for life or for street rules,” he said.
Holman, identified by police as a gang member, was gunned down last week at an apartment building in the Washington Park neighborhood.
Coincidentially, the shooting took place just outside St. Columbanus, the same church where gangster Al Capone’s wife and mother attended mass daily more than half a century ago.
A Cook County Medical Examiner’s spokesman identified one of the two victims as Sherman Miller, 21, and said he was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital. A 26-year-old man was shot in the back and listed as in “extremely critical condition,” a hospital spokesman said.
Miller, who is also identified in court records as William Miller, was on parole for being in possession of a stolen vehicle and escaping from police custody, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections Web site.
The surviving victim has a 2004 felony weapons conviction in his criminal background, court records show.
Police said two guns were recovered, one down the block from the church at East 71st Street and South Prairie Avenue and another on one of the victims.
About a dozen bullet casings littered the steps outside the church where yellow evidence markers were placed. Beat cops blocked off traffic with their squad cars and sealed off the church’s entrance with yellow and red tape. As evidence technicians took photos of the crime scene, detectives went door-to-door to nearby homes scouring for witnesses.
April Smith, 30, said she looked out a second-floor window of her home when she heard her car alarm sound off and noticed a man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans walking toward the church entrance on 71st Street. She then heard about a dozen gunshots and saw two passersby crouch for protection.
Moments later, the same man in the sweatshirt ran back onto Prairie and fled south, said Smith. Mourners then frantically exited the church.
“To know that something like that happened right across the street…it’s terrible,” Smith, who has lived at her home for seven years, said in disbelief. “It’s broad daylight.”
Brooks, who is pastor of New Beginnings Church of Chicago in the Woodlawn neighborhood and is considering a run for former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s vacant congressional seat, said about 500 people attended the funeral, including about 50 children. The church was so crowded that people were standing in the back.
Brooks had finished the eulogy and Holman’s family and close friends had gone out the front door of the church when shots rang out.
“That’s when all the gunfire broke out and it was just crazy,” Brooks said. “People were hollering and screaming and kids running everywhere.”
Charles Childs, a co-owner of the A.A. Rayner and Sons Funeral Home across the street from the church, held an uneventful visitation for Holman on Sunday. On Monday he said he saw the gunman firing his weapon as he came down the front steps outside the church.
“No place is safe,” he said. “It’s just despicable.”
Perhaps a worthy point to mention here is the fact that so many of the media live in well-to-do areas, north of Madison Avenue, thus, for them to venture south is an extreme act of courage for most, even the assigned minorities, and they would never make the trip solo, in other words, with only a notepad.
If the daily killings were happening where the media hang their bad hats (worn by the women reporters in winter), then the outcry would be unrelenting. Chief McCarthy would never get away with brushing over of crime stats and it appears he now engages in.
Here’s the picture all of this leaves you with: though police have not confirmed the church killing was directly gang related (REALL), Holman was a confirmed member of the Gangster Disciples. Perhaps the motive for Monday’s shootings is unclear, however, there’s been an ongoing battle between the Gangster Disciples and the Black Disciples in the very area where his funeral services were being held.
So then why did police believe the the funeral was not one they thought needed security for possible gang violence?
You know, the community would be better served if the city’s gang ridden neighborhoods would collude with their churches and pursue a policy to have their funerals in the more affluent areas in Chicago. That would certainly shake things. And it could perhaps provide a desperately needed spark towards change in a city that is long overdue.