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Leaders commit to doing more to prevent gun violence in Evanston.

Evanston/North Shore Branch NAACP's President Pastor Michael Nabors called a news conference at 2 p.m. this afternoon to respond to the mass shooting that occurred last Sunday evening at the Mobil gas station on the corner of Green Bay Road and Asbury. The shooting left 17-year-old Carl Dennison dead, 14-year-old Aniyah Guy fighting for her life, and three other teens, aged 14 to 18, injured.

Speakers included Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss, ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, NAACP Political Action Chair Willie Shaw, and 5th ward Council Member Bobby Burns.

Other attendees included:

Representative Denyse Stoneback, 16th District, who founded People for a Safer Society; City Council members Jonathan Nieuwsma and Melissa Wynne; ETHS Principal Marcus Campbell; Evanston's Director of Health and Human Services Audrey Thompson and outreach workers Deanna Howlett and Stacey Moragne Sr.; Evanston Community Foundation Executive Director Sol Anderson; Rabbis Andrea Coustan London of Beth Emet The Free Synagogue and Rachel Weiss of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation - JRC; Pastor Rosalind Henderson, Beth-El A.M.E. Church; Pastor Michael Woolf, Lake Street Church of Evanston; and EPD Chaplain Rodney Greene.

Also at the news conference were representatives of Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change - ECCSC, a Chicago group of violence interrupters who have been present in Evanston since the night of the shooting.

Family members of the victims were not at the news conference.

The event opened with a Baha'i prayer offered by Candace Moore Hill and ended with a prayer offered by Pastor Monte' L. G. Dillard, Sr. Dillard is Pastor of First Church of God Christian Life Center and a member of Evanston Own It, a group of mostly fifth ward ministers and leaders who came together in 2015 to help prevent violence.

Below are each speaker's remarks, edited slightly for length.


Pastor Michael Nabors, NAACP president; Sr. Pastor, Second Baptist Evanston

The NAACP extends condolences to the Dennison family and a renewed commitment to the surviving teenagers' families that we will continue the fight against violence and gun violence. We concur with Mayor Biss who pleged that the Evanston Police Department will do everything to get to the bottom of what happened and redouble our efforts at violence prevention.

Yes, that must be done. But more must be done as well.

There is no justifiable reason on earth why five teenagers standing on this corner in Evanston should be the targets of gunfire. There should also be no justifiable reason why students at a high school in Oxford, Michigan should be shot and killed by a fellow student, just yesterday.

Those who committed the crime must be apprehended, every resource possible must unearth those who pulled the trigger that killed and hurt some of our town's most precious cargo, our children.

The cavalier attitude regarding gunfire in our nation, the blatant disregard for the value of human life, the erasure of common values, and the insanity of a society that now accepts its young people's loss of life are symptoms of a sick and diseased nation.

After our sorrow, after our condolences, after a desire to help and assist those victims and their families in any way possible, there is a rising tide of rage that is welling within us all. It remains unfathomable that our town or any town or city in our country, would be a target for such ignorance and ugliness. It is unacceptable that a response to which we have all become lulled into compliance would be one of apathy.

When our children's lives are at stake, when we are hit with the trifecta burden of dealing with a COVID pandemic, dealing with a racist pandemic, we are now forced to deal with a violence pandemic. We must now, with forethought and due diligence, mobilize our community as never before, working to develop a collaboration with young people, community groups, agencies, and programs, many who are represented here today.

Opportunities and provisions must be supported and others put in place that specifically target at-risk youth and young adults. Our branch will avail as many resources as possible to help identify critical education programs, high-tech, high-wage workforce development and training programs that will result in opportunities for young people to excel--and not die.

We must intervene before the crisis and not after. We must provide alternate routes and not dead ends. We must prepare a successful plan and not engage in empty rhetoric.

There is no question in our mind that the resources are here in our town. Resources that have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of every young person. If it takes reaching one young person at a time, then we must do so beginning right now.

But let this clarion cry begin and not end on this corner, ironically, just one block from the House of Thompson Funeral Home and just down the street from the Halliburton Funeral Home. It is not a neighborhood problem that we are facing. It is not an ethnic problem that we are facing. It is not a community problem that we are facing. It is a national problem. It is, and will, take the full commitment of our nation, state by state, city by city, and town by town, to bring light and safety in to our most dangerous regions so that all of our children may stand on any corner, or play in any park, or walk down any street and be safe from the ravages of the insanity that continues to fester in our world.

Daniel Biss, mayor

This is a critical moment for this community.

It's often that I lament how difficult it is to speak after a Pastor Nabors because of how extraordinarily eloquent he is. Today, it's simply difficult to speak after him because--he said it. He said the words that must be said, and all I can do is echo them.

There are a few critical things here. Number one, this is a disease, a profound sickness. The sickness that comes with the availability of guns and the willingness of individuals to use them. The sickness is so visible that some people have nothing to do besides just look the other way and hope that it's gonna go away, and hope that it's somebody else's problem, and hope that it doesn't affect them in their backyard tomorrow.

It's a disease and it's a disease that we have to overcome together.

We are we are hurting because of the extraordinary loss that occurred right here just three evenings ago, because of what it means, because of who it harms, because of what it says about where we are.

We must use that pain as a call to action. I want to continue echoing what was already said by Pastor Nabors: we have to devote every resource available to violence-prevention efforts. We're joined here by our Community Services Manager Audrey Thompson and members of our Youth and Young Adult Division who stand ready to build upon the efforts that have already been underway.

We have to invest those resources that are here in this community right now, are adequate in this community right now, to this critical effort. We have to pair that on-the-street violence-prevention outreach work with the creation of readily available economic opportunities and jobs and workforce development efforts to demonstrate that paths forward exist-- encouraging paths forward, exciting paths forward.

And we have to work with every single resource in this community. I'm delighted that Dr. Witherspoon will be speaking after me. That Sol Anderson of the Evanston Community Foundation is here. I'm delighted to be joined by members of City Council, State Representative Denise Stoneback is here.

We need to all come together.

Those resources are here. Embedded in our faith community that time and again stands up first, to be not only a conscience of our community, but a guidepost for our community. They're here in the nonprofits and the service providers. They're here in every resident. We've got to mobilize them all and we have to work together, and we can not begin to accept this grotesque situation as an inevitability.

We have to call it what it is--a sickness and an aberration--and root it out. I'm committed to doing everything that I possibly can to make that be. I know that is completely possible with the partnership of all the people represented here, all the people that do so much extraordinary work. Even in this enormously painful moment, I am optimistic that we can accomplish that together.

We have to reach inside ourselves and grab hold of that knowledge and turn it into required action. I'll do what I can to make that happen.

Eric Witherspoon, superintendent, ETHS

What happened at this site Sunday evening is beyond horrific. It's unimaginable. That five teenagers in our community would be gunned down when they simply came here to get some Arizona tea.

Tragic isn't a great enough word.

I hope today that you, and everybody in this community and in this region, is feeling outrage--because this is outrageous. And what we need to do is turn our outrage into renewed action.

I know that we believe that our children deserve a future. I know that we believe that our children deserve to be safe in this community. And I know that we believe that as a community we all have a responsibility for the safety and the futures of our children.

But obviously, everything we're doing and been doing still isn't enough. Not when children get gunned down just blocks from some of their homes.

So my appeal to all of us today is--I saw some of the literature about about guns and gun violence--we really need to redouble our efforts in what gun violence is doing in this country and in this community.

No nation should have so much of this going on.

I'm joined today by the principal of ETHS Dr. Marcus Campbell. And we are with those children, and they are grieving. You can't believe the sadness and the grief that the children in this community are feeling. The worry and concern about their own safety that they're feeling right now. And so I appeal to everybody.

You've been doing the work. You care about the work, but we have to figure out how to do more and be even more effective.

This has to stop.

Willie Shaw, NAACP political action chair

The Black community and other communities of color have experienced decades of divestment. It is a malignant cancer in our nation, and that cancer will continue until properly treated. But more policing isn't the answer. Over-reliance on the tools of arrest, prosecution, incarceration, has only harmed our communities. And it hasn't made us safer.

There are many forms of violence that our community continues to grapple with: there's gender violence, there's sexual violence, there's child abuse, there's domestic violence, police violence.

As we search for solutions to end all of these types of violence, we also must acknowledge who and what has been left out. These people also deserve investment. They deserve recognition. There are ways that young people can make a difference in resolving the conflicts that they encounter on a daily basis.

Sadly, we are here again, because of violence. But children are not born violent. It is a learned behavior. We must all do a better job preparing our young people to become better citizens.

That means parents must do better. That means that they must seek assistance when they need it.

There's a lack of investment in our children from schools. Schools must do better.

There is a lack of investment in our children in our churches. Churches must do better.

Evanston is fortunate to have a tremendous amount of programming. They must make those programs available and accessible for our children.

We have a tremendous number of civic programs, clubs, sororities, fraternities, they must all do better for our children.

We must have programs that expose our children to the wealth and breadth of our nation. Our leaders must exit their cars and safe havens in order to establish positive relationships for our young people.

Our children deserve it, and we must be there for them.

Children: you have a whole slew of adults here in your homes, in your schools that are there for you. You must listen to those people that are guiding and offering information that will assist you in having a better life. We implore you to seek out those people when you need assistance. Seek out the NAACP for assistance, seek out Family Focus down the street, Fleetwood-Jordain down the street. Call us and we will connect you with whatever service that you need.

But you must listen. Listen to those people that are here for you and that are in your corner.

Bobby Burns, 5th ward council member

I want to start off by saying condolences to all the families and the friends of the victims that were impacted. Condolences to the young man who lost his life not too far from where we're standing.

Condolences to the young men and women, some of whom have left the hospital and went home, and others who are still clinging to life in the hospital.

One of the terrible things that violence does is it takes away our voice. And it makes people further isolate themselves. And so I want to let everybody know in Evanston and in the community--do not lose your voice. Do not feel isolated. I am here and committed to speak with anyone--both about this incident and any other incident.

I want to reassure people that the City didn't begin to address violence, begin to understand the need for workforce development, did not start to understand the need for mental health both at the individual level and the group level, after this event. Many of the council members here today ran on those things. Our mayor's first act was to establish a Reimagining Public Safety Committee.

So I want to reassure the city that all the elected officials, our staff, we have been committed to addressing these issues and we will continue to.

We talk often about, for instance, the lead pipe replacement program. We know that is a huge opportunity to create jobs. I'm a part of the Social Services Committee. We just, at the committee level, approved hundreds of thousands of dollars for a program to expand mental health accessibility in the city of Evanston for individuals and families. And we have ARPA money where we are positioned to make a sizeable contribution for these things.

So again, I just want to reassure people in Evanson: the work did not start after this shooting, it will not end. We are still committed as we were yesterday.

I just want to close by saying, please reach out to me. The call that I want is someone saying, 'Look, I have a young man, a young person in my home that I think maybe involved with violence ,that I think may have a firearm, that I think is descending into a subculture of violence.' I want that call. And I'm not talking about as a police response.

We have, which is which is probably different from other cities, a Youth a Young Adult Outreach team here, a violence interruption team here, that we've dedicated City resources to staffing and are working hard to think about how to expand it.

Please put us to work we are all committed to supporting the community.


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