She remembers him as a genius who was about to start kindergarten after just two weeks of kindergarten. He was full of life and didn’t call her “Mom” or “Mom” but “Happy”.
But she wasn’t surprised by the attention and support Highland Park has received because it’s a predominantly white suburb of Chicago, she said. Gun violence is so normalized in Chicago’s south and west neighborhoods that it doesn’t cause the same concern, she says.
“I thought there would be more protests for a 4-year-old whose life was taken, and I just didn’t see that,” Gregg said. “We see it all the time, the difference in how black and brown kids are treated.”
As the nation was shocked by the premeditated mass shooting in Highland Park, residents an hour’s drive from the south and west sides of Chicago mourned a death toll and injury that exceeded that of Highland Park. This July 4 weekend in Chicago, at least eight people were shot and killed and 68 injured by gun violence.
Gregg and community advocates say they don’t compare which tragedy is worse and stand in solidarity with the Highland Park community. They just want to see the same compassion and urgency to find answers as in Highland Park on the south and west sides – where they say there is almost an expectation and acceptance of gun violence with little attention or of resources.
According to data from the Chicago Police Department, the city of Chicago saw a 53% drop in homicides this year compared to last July 4 weekend. But locals say that doesn’t alleviate the sense of exasperation they felt following the gun violence last weekend.
“These children have all touched the ground”
Corey Brooks, founder and senior pastor of Chicago’s New Beginnings Church, says that in the city’s south and west neighborhoods, black and brown youth constantly fear they’ll be the next victim of gun violence. He remembers being in a playground with a group of children last summer when gunfire erupted and all the children playing in the area immediately ducked to the ground.
“In any other neighborhood the kids would probably have started running, but these kids all hit the ground,” he says. “What a sad comment these kids know, ‘OK, someone shoot, hit the ground.'”
Brooks is also the founder and CEO of Project Helping Others Obtain Destiny (HOOD), a nonprofit focused on ending cycles of poverty and violence that provides mentorship to residents of Chicago’s Woodlawn and Englewood.
Brooks says predominantly black and brown neighborhoods like Woodlawn and Englewood are heavily impacted by gun violence, alongside other south and west side communities like Austin, Roseland, Back of the Yards, Humboldt Park and more. What binds these communities together is poverty and lack of resources, which means they are neglected, he added.
TJ Grooms, an associate pastor of New Beginnings Church of Chicago who is also director of the HOOD project, says he wishes these politicians had also visited the south and west sides of Chicago and shown the same insistence on presenting their condolences to families affected by gun violence over the 4th of July weekend.
“If you’re in a position of power, you have to make sure that the same energy and effort that you put into one area is put into the other,” Grooms said. “I won’t visit an area like Highland Park and show up at the other end of the spectrum.”
They are no longer allowed to be children
Grooms says the mental health of black and brown youth in Chicago’s south and west neighborhoods is a major issue related to gun violence. Young people are traumatized and don’t know how to cope with these violent experiences, forcing them into “survival mode” where their childhood is taken away from them, he added.
In the months since MJ’s death, Gregg also struggles with the trauma and emptiness of losing his only child. But she also became a young activist.
The weekend MJ was killed still haunts her. She and MJ were in Chicago for Labor Day weekend, visiting from Alabama so he could spend time with his father, Mychal Moultry Sr.
A few days later, Gregg and Moultry Sr. were planning a funeral.
When a family loses a child to gun violence, funeral costs can present additional difficulties and pain. In April, the Illinois House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the Mychal Moultry Jr. Funeral and Burial Assistance Act, in which the state provides funeral and burial assistance to low-income families. income for children under 17 who are murdered by gun violence.
Gregg says it’s been great to see the state shouldering some of the financial burden, but she wants lawmakers to focus more on preventing gun violence in the first place so there’s no no funeral to pay.
“They’re two completely different worlds,” says Gregg. “We were able to get this legislation passed within six or seven months of MJ passing it, but the laws to prevent that from happening in the first place, they’re still in limbo.”
Gregg says people are becoming desensitized to gun violence in Chicago and its impact on youth, families and the wider community.
Brooks says he wants young black and brown people in neighborhoods like Woodlawn to live in safe environments and grow up to reach their full potential. If the same level of care and compassion were shown in the south and west parts of Chicago as in Highland Park, he says there would be more resources and solutions directed at communities to address gun violence.
In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Highland Park, community members left behind strollers, lawn chairs, bicycles, shoes, toys, blankets and more. On Chicago’s South and West Sides, Grooms says tangible items aren’t what’s lost when mass shootings occur in the community almost every day.
“What’s left is innocence, what’s left is sensitivity, what’s left is hope, what’s mostly left is that justice,” Grooms says. “We don’t get justice for our babies and teenagers who are shot and killed, and it’s very rare that we see the people who kill someone brought to justice.”
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