With just days before the official end of summer, Chicago has closed out the season with yet more bloodshed.
About 10:15 p.m. on Thursday two gunmen opened fire on a Chicago park, wounding 13 people including a 3-year-old boy. Among the victims were two other minors, one 15 and the other 17.
In all, 23 people were shot in 11 separate shootings within a span of four hours last night. Despite the violent outburst, only one person was killed, a 36-year-old man.
“This right here got me standing out. I’m on my corner every day until the violence stops, because it has to stop,” Semecha Nunn, the 3-year-old’s grandmother told reporters shortly after the shootings.
The mass shooting that left the toddler and two others in critical condition did little to shake the perception of unchecked violence in Chicago--the country's third most populous city but the highest number of murders last year with 500.
Police say a gunman or gunmen used an assault-style rifle with a high capacity magazine in the park shooting.
"Senseless and brazen acts of violence have no place in Chicago and betray all that we stand for,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement in response to the shooting inside Cornell Square Park, in the city’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. “The perpetrators of this crime will be brought to justice and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I encourage everyone in the community to step forward with any information and everyone in Chicago to continue their individual efforts to build stronger communities where violence has no place."
According to police, the shootings appear to be gang-related. Witnesses told local news stations that up to three men circled the park in a car before opening fire on a group of people in the park watching a basketball game. The shooters then got out of the vehicle and continued firing.
Mayor Emanuel was traveling on Friday to Washington, D.C., and New Jersey for meetings and political events but cancelled those appearances in the wake of Thursday’s violence.
During a press conference on Friday afternoon, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said that while shootings and killings are down in the city, 22% and 23% respectively, this is no time for self-congratulation.
“The fact is, we're doing better. The fact is we have a long way to go,” McCarthy said. “What is needed in Chicago and cities across this country is real action and reasonable gun laws on the state and federal level,” he said. “Military-type weapons like the one we believe was used in this shooting belong on battlefields and not on a street or on a corner or in a park in the Back of the Yards.”
McCarthy said Chicago is expected to end the year with its lowest murder rate since the 1960s.
The rash of violence capped a week of sensational, headline-grabbing gun violence in America, which included the killing of 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard by a mentally disturbed man who went on a shooting spree, before being killed by police. The killing renewed calls for tougher gun laws that would strengthen background check requirements and limit access to guns for those with mental illness.
Gun control back on the agenda
McCarthy said America needs common sense gun laws that include background checks on all gun sales, the requirement to report the transfer of weapons from one person to another, and a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
“It’s very frustrating because the United States Senate had an opportunity this year to pass universal background checks which are designed to prevent criminals, terrorist and mentally ill individuals from possessing firearms,” McCarthy said. “But just this week we had a mentally ill criminal commit a terrorist act. We can do a lot of really good policing… but until such time that the rest of the components of government, federal, state or local work together we’re not going to have the success that we want.”
Following the massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school and a string of high-profile murders in urban communities including a couple in Chicago, the Obama administration and many Democrats pushed a robust gun safety agenda.
But Republicans stymied a bipartisan deal on new federal gun control measures that included universal background checks on gun purchases, and since then, conversation around guns has largely gone mute. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, has said that a vote on a background checks bill would happen no sooner than 2014 ahead of the midterm elections, because Congress will likely be wrestling with budget fights.
Rep. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said Washington must step up on the issue of guns.
“We need to do our part in Washington,” Durbin said during a news conference on Friday. “It is absolutely unacceptable that Washington has failed to pass the most basic, sensible gun legislation.”
Durbin said that he’d like to sit down with Superintendent McCarthy to talk about what additional resources the department might need to combat gun violence.
“It looked like things were moving in the right direction, and they were,” Durbin said. “But when we have setbacks like this, this terrible shooting incident near Back of the Yards, it's a reminder that we're still vulnerable.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, another Illinois Democrat, called the Navy Yard shooting and last night’s shootings in Chicago indicative of “an epidemic.”
“Our country has seen two mass shootings this week. These violent shootings are becoming an epidemic in our society,” Schakowsky said in a statement. “At what point do we act? How many more innocent lives have to be taken until Congress is forced to do something? These questions should no longer go unanswered. I am outraged and angered that gun violence continues to affect the lives of innocent people. We can’t allow our cities to become places where children can’t go to parks and people are afraid to go to work for fear of guns.”
Family of the 3-year-old boy injured in the Cornell Square Park shooting told The Chicago Tribune that the boy’s uncle was shot and killed on Sept. 2 over the Labor Day Holiday weekend.
Police Superintendent McCarthy said investigators are reviewing surveillance video that might have recorded some of the incident. He described the neighborhood, in Southwest Chicago, where the shooting occurred as a high gang conflict zone. But despite whatever was behind Thursday’s shooting, McCarthy said the bottom line in the city’s continuing fight with guns is clear.
“Illegal guns drive violence,” he said.