ABOVE PHOTO: Antonio Brown, father of Amari Brown, speaks with the media, Monday, July 6, 2015, in Chicago. Authorities say 7-year-old Amari Brown, who was celebrating the Fourth of July with his family, was among three people who were shot and killed overnight during a weekend outbreak of gun-related violence in Chicago. (AP Photo/Christian K. Lee)
By Don Babwin
CHICAGO — A 7-year-old boy who was one of seven people shot to death in Chicago over the holiday weekend was the son of a gang leader with a lengthy arrest record, and police say the man’s refusal to cooperate with detectives highlights the city’s ongoing challenge to curb gang-related violence.
During the Fourth of July weekend, 48 people were wounded by gunfire in 34 separate incidents in Chicago. Seven homicides also were reported during the same three-day period last year, and this year’s total in the nation’s third-largest city nearly matched the combined numbers for New York (one), Los Angeles (three) and Houston (five) — the other cities that rank in the top four in population.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has repeatedly lamented that the lack of tough gun laws in Illinois has made the streets that much more dangerous because of the quickness with which people arrested on gun charges are back on the street.
Among them, he said, is the father of the young shooting victim. McCarthy said that the bullet that struck Amari Brown in the chest “was meant for his father,” whom he described as a “ranking gang member” who had been arrested 45 times.
Antonio Brown’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation is a familiar hurdle for Chicago police that as of Monday had yet to capture a suspect in Amari’s death.
After Brown was arrested for gun possession last April, he was released on bail the next day, McCarthy said.
“If Mr. Brown is in custody, his son is alive,” McCarthy told reporters Sunday.
Brown’s family bristled at the suggestion that Brown bore any responsibility for his son’s death as well as the contention that he was the intended victim.
“He was in the house using the washroom,” his uncle, Carl O’Neal, told The Associated Press on Monday. “Yes, he’s a former gang member. Yes, he’s been arrested, but what does that have to do with a man shooting at a group of kids?”
The Rev. Ira Acree, who appeared with Brown and other family members at a news conference Sunday, also questioned McCarthy’s assertion that the boy would be alive if his father was in custody.
“I can understand his anger and his frustration … but the fact is 50 people were shot over the weekend,” said Acree. “Are you going to tell me that all 50 people had a relative that caused them to be shot?”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel visited with the Brown family on Monday and expressed concern about Antonio Brown’s actions.
“The idea that you’re taking a 7-year old out at midnight, you have a responsibility to that child, and then to cooperate with the police department on a crime committed to that 7-year old,” Emanuel said.
Three years after capturing the attention of the country when the total of homicides topped the 500 mark, the number of slayings is once again climbing after dropping each of the last two years. As of June 28, there were 203 homicides compared to 171 for the same period last year. And there were 1,045 shooting incidents compared to 866 for the same period last year.
That total does not include the slaying of 17-year-old Vonzell Banks, who was shot to death Friday afternoon at a playground named after Hadiya Pendleton. It was Pendleton, an honor student, who in 2013 became a national symbol of gun violence in Chicago when she was gunned down as she talked with friends just a mile from President Barack Obama’s South Side home just days after returning from the president’s inauguration.