For many dads, Fathers Day 2013 was a painful reminder of something that is missing from their lives: murdered children. “Father's Day is painstaking; I have another son and I wonder what things would have been like [for my murdered son]. I want the day to get over with real quick…When [my murdered son's] anniversary [of death] comes up, I feel the same shame, guilt, remorse, feeling as if I was not there for him,” says 42-year-old James Ivy, whose 22 year old son, James Brown, was murdered in the Rogers Park area of Chicago in April of 2012.
“He was coming out of a building with another guy when other guys started shooting at them, and James was shot once in the chest… that ended his dreams as he was a criminal justice student at Wright College” continued the grieving dad.
“I was at work and his uncle called me and asked, 'Did you hear about your son?' I know that he was shot in the foot a week before and I thought my uncle was talking about that, but he said, 'No, call your son's mother.' I said 'I am not on good terms with my son's mother.' 'I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your son just got killed,' my uncle told me.”
James suspects his son may have been involved with the Gangster Disciples, a notorious street gang that is prominent in the Rogers Park area and other sections of Chicago. He also has some ideas about who may have killed his son:
“It was said that a guy set him up to be shot because the same bullet of the gun that he got killed with, was the one supposedly that he [previously] got shot in the foot with. He was in someone else's place. [The shooters] were waiting on him, and it was like an ambush. Only him got shot. The killer is still on the loose. People were scared to speak to avoid retaliation.”
Part of what is most devastating to James is that he credits his son with giving him a reason to live, even today:
“My son practically saved my life. He had just got home from prison and he was on house arrest and had a scholarship to play football…He wanted to see his dad before he goes, so his mom said, 'Your dad is nothing but a crackhead, but you want to see him so I will take you where he at.' So she was doing that to shame me, but what she used to shame me, God used to help me and put me on the right path.”
James realized that his son bore a striking resemblance to him and reminded him of what he used to look like before spending so much time in a crack house and not caring adequately for himself. “I promised him that he will never see me this way anymore, that was November 23rd 2008, and I am still clean today.”
He says that we can eliminate the violence that cost him so dearly by, “strengthening families, spending more time with children, and teaching them better ways to handle conflicts in their lives.”
The deadly 2013 Father's Day weekend in Chicago, with at least 8 people killed and 46 shot, was similarly violent to that of 2012. Last year, Takaki Asphy mourned the death of his 16-year-old daughter, Shakaki Asphy, a sophomore Harper High School basketball star, and drummer in her church band, who was shot and killed during the weekend that left 7 dead and about 35 wounded in Chicago. “She was sitting on a porch with another guy who seemed to be the intended target. She got shot two times, in the stomach and the upper shoulder. She lived for about a couple hours then she died. They have a guy in custody…and the case is currently in court,” he said during an interview conducted just few weeks before he too became a shooting victim (but survived) on Chicago's South Side.
“It really hurt, seeing her laying there being killed for no reason at all. I do not want to say that she was in the wrong place in the wrong time because it was her neighborhood, she should not have to worry about things of that nature. It kind of messed me up.”
“When I think about it, the guy who [supposedly] killed her, he was 16, when she died, she was 16…and when I had her, I was 16. It was messed up seeing her lying there like that, wishing I could take her place,” said the grieving dad who is also mourning his 20-year-old step son, Keith L. Smith, who died in January 2013 through a severe car accident on Chicago's South Side.
“It is hard, actually, I am from the streets, so I was thinking all types of deviant things about what I want to do about my daughter's murder, but through family and friends talking to me, keeping me in check and to keep my cool, keeping my sanity, this is how I dealt with it, and am able to stay peaceful,” says Asphy.
“The police took people like Don Dirk and these types of cats…the leaders away, the people who were respected, and now you have mayhem. Now [what we have] is cliques, they have no rules and regulations. They talk how they want to talk, act how they want to act, walk how they want to walk, that's what they do. The young guys do not have anyone controlling them, not in the house, or out of the house. So to stop the madness and all this violence, we need to bring love, order, and responsibility back in the homes, and effective leadership for youth to follow in the community.
Asphy claims that he and other older members of street organizations in Chicago are willing to play active roles to implement that strategy for positive change.
Lawrencestein Walls, Jr. was 22 when he was murdered on Chicago's South Side in April of 2011. “There were a lot of emotions that I felt, from sadness to anger, wanting to do something, but not knowing what to do” recalls his father, Lawrencestein Walls, Sr. who spent Father's Day 2013 remembering his son, and still hoping for justice to be served against his killer(s).
“Being a father, my belief, which came from other men, not my father, is that my job was to protect my children, at all costs; give them good counsel, guidance. So as a father, the first thing I thought about was who is that person who took my son's life…whether [my son] called on me when he noticed he was going to die; I felt defeated in some aspects that I was not there to protect him…a lot of 'what ifs.' Was there something else I could have done to guide him the right way?"
Walls spends a lot of time agonizing over the details of the crime: “I would like to know why did they kill my son…As a father and person of the street, I understand what my son was into, I think he made some enemies, …My belief is that they double crossed him, robbed him, and killed him. I am hearing that on the streets.”
"Because I really don't know who really did this to my son, I sometimes think if I have had a conversation with someone who was involved with this."
He also feels that the Chicago Police have done little to bring the killers to justice. “Even today, I do not think they gave as much attention to my son's investigation as they did with other cases.”
“As a father, it is never settled. In my case, [my son's] daughter was born 4 months after he was murdered. She is a young lady who has to be raised by her mother, and will never know her father…physically. That is a tragedy. Now instead of me taking on the role of a grandfather, it is like I have to be a father. No one knows how this feels. Even to this day, the impact of my son is still very hard on me. It has gotten better, but I think about it every day."
Like other fathers for whom justice has not been served Mr. Walls makes an appeal: “My son's life is just as important to me as any other murdered child in Chicago or abroad, and I want the same justice that has been given to high profile cases, for my son, and other parents awaiting justice.”
The fathers interviewed in this article and here will be among those participating in a workshop series conducted by the author entitled "Responsible Fatherhood and Community Peace" beginning June 27th 2013 in the University Library at Chicago State University.
Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean is the Executive Director and Founder of Peaceful World Movement, an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Governors State University and University at Buffalo Department of Sociology, and CEO of Quality of Life Solutions, Chicago. He is also the author of Pockets of Crime: Broken Windows, Collective Efficacy and the Criminal Point of View.