Updated: Jul 22, 2020
On a cold and dark afternoon, a group of Evanston residents gathered at Lake Street Church of Evanston to remember the victims and survivors of the Sandy Hook school shooting and the victims of "every day" gun violence in Evanston, surrounding suburbs, and Chicago.
The vigil came just four days after the shooting death of Macksantino Webb, great-nephew of beloved Evanston pastor Zollie Webb, who was fatally shot just after noon on the El platform at Howard Street.
The ink had barely dried as his name was added to the 454 names already on the list of Chicago-area gun victims for 2019, with still several weeks to go before the year's end.
Organized by Sara Frederick Knizhnik and the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition, the event featured a vigil and a teach-in about the new Firearms Restraining Order, passed last year, which allows family members to have guns confiscated from loved ones they believe are a danger to themselves or others (learn more here).
Courageous survivors--all of whom have lost children to gun violence--spoke out to encourage those gathered to keep fighting for sensible gun laws, better social services, and stronger support for survivors.
Bertha Purnell's 28-year-old son Maurice, father of four, was shot and killed less than a mile from her house.
Evanstonian Nick Alan Scott's 20-year-old daughter Kaylyn Pryor was 20 when she was shot and killed by a stray bullet in Englewood, as she waited for the bus to come back to Evanston after visiting her grandparents.
Two of Delphine Cherry's three children--her daughter Tyesa and her son Tyler--were shot and killed.
Tyesa was 16 when she was hit by a ricocheting bullet outside a movie theatre. Tyler was gunned down in front of their home, almost 20 years to the day after his sister was killed. He was 20 years old.
Samantha Kent, who lived Newtown, CT, ur now makes her home in Chicago, remembered the Sandy Hook victims. Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who shot and killed 20 six- and seven-year-old children, six teachers, and himself, was Samantha's classmate.
Kimberly Holmes-Ross, who knew Macksantino Webb, spoke about him and Pastor Webb--and Pastor Webb's years-long efforts to keep young men safe from gun violence.
Long-time Evanston resident Dr. Traci Armer Kurtzer, medical director, trauma-informed care and education at Northwestern Medicine, talked about the stigma victims and survivors of gun violence face, the work being done to change that, and the need for everyone to support the work of state legislators and leaders to improve trauma care for gun victims and survivors.
"How many times have you heard it said, 'Well, what was he doing to get himself shot?' or 'Why was she hanging around with those dangerous people?'" Kurtzer said. "Statements like this create a societal-based trauma to the grieving family.
Regardless of why they were killed, their mother, their father, their siblings are grieving just like any other grieving family."
We must support families regardless of the circumstances, Kurtzer said.
Kurtzer also talked about the unique economic challenges that victims and survivors face after gun violence. While we have laws in place for domestic violence and sexual assault victims who are provided job security from the Victims' Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA).
"But victims of serious crimes, including gun violence, and their families, aren't given this same level of protection," Kurtzer explained. "This is discrimination, and it's based on societal biases. Why do we expect victims of gun violence and their family members to fulfill their work obligations as if nothing happened to them?"
Kurtzer referenced Evanston resident Evangeline Semark Cooper, whose son Yakez was shot and killed in Evanston last January, who has taken her pain and turned it into a legislative effort to end this discrimination--to push for the expansion of the VESSA law, which St. Rep. Robyn Gabel will introduce in the next session.
"We need to support that legislation when the times comes," said Kurtzer.
In addition to backing sensible gun legislation, Kurtzer said, we all need to support the efforts of our attorney general and other state legislators who are looking at ways to provide better trauma recovery services to high-risk communities and to victims of gun violence across the state.
Also in attendance were Denyse Wang Stoneback, who founded Skokie-based People for a Safer Society immediately after the Sandy Hook tragedy, and Fred Weatherspoon of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, who came up from Englewood where he works to interrupt violence.
Those gathered ended the event with lit candles and a minute of silence, followed by a closing prayer by Lake Street Church's Rev. Michael Woolf.
A report in The Hill yesterday, "Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed," says that in the years since Sandy Hook, 21 state legislatures have expanded background check requirements on various types of gun sales. Seventeen states, mostly those controlled by Democrats, have passed red flag laws that allow law enforcement to take guns away from someone who may pose a danger to themselves or others. And 28 states have enacted laws requiring those convicted of domestic abuse to give up their firearms.
The debate over guns, says the report, is no longer one-sided.
"Backing stricter gun laws, once a sure path to defeat in rural and suburban communities, has become a winning issue — or at least a neutral issue — for some candidates."