In the weeks since he was shot in the back, 10-year-old Tavon Tanner has undergone several operations to repair the damage from the bullet that tore through his small body and remains lodged between his shoulder and his chest.
The fifth-grader is still in the hospital and still in pain, according to his mother Mellanie Washington. He doesn’t talk as much and cries more often. Sometimes he’ll ask if police have arrested the person who shot him.
“I tell him they will soon,” Washington said. “They will.” No one was in custody as of Monday.
Tavon was among more than 400 people shot in Chicago this month. There have been at least 78 homicides, marking August as the most violent month in the city in almost 20 years, according to data provided by the Chicago Police Department. And there are two more days to go.
The city hasn’t seen a deadlier month since October of 1997, when there were 79 homicides. For the whole year, the count was 761, according to department numbers.
Chicago has recorded 487 homicides and more than 2,800 people shot so far this year, compared to 491 homicides and 2,988 people shot all of last year, according to Tribune data.
Chicago has a lower homicide rate than many other U.S. cities that are smaller in population. But this year, the city has recorded more homicides and shooting victims than New York City and Los Angeles combined, even though the two cities are larger than Chicago’s population of roughly 2.6 million.
New York, with more than three times the population of Chicago, has recorded 760 shooting victims and logged 222 homicides, according to NYPD crime statistics through Aug. 21. In Los Angeles, a city of about 4 million, 176 people have been slain and 729 people shot, according to LAPD crime data through Aug. 20.
The gun violence in Chicago has been concentrated on the South and West sides that have lost population over the years as other areas have grown.
The Harrison District on the West Side, for example, has had almost 400 people shot this year after logging 350 all of last year. Englewood saw 330 people shot all of last year and has tallied close to 300 this year.
The Harrison District covers a lot of the Lawndale neighborhood, where Tavon lives. The boy was playing out front with his twin sister in the 3900 block of West Polk Street when someone fired as many as nine shots.
He collapsed as he followed his mother through the front door. His twin sister, Taniyah, sat next to him, holding his hand, trying to keep him calm, according to their mother. “Twin don’t leave me, twin don’t leave me,” she kept yelling.
Tavon was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he underwent nearly four hours of surgery, Washington said. The bullet damaged his pancreas, intestines, kidney and spleen as it entered his lower back and lodged in his chest, she said.
In the hours before Tavon was shot, a man in his early 20s was shot in the head at a basketball court down the block where Tavon was not allowed to play. And an older man was shot and killed about four blocks away.
Tavon’s twin sister started school last week without her brother. Washington, who has spent the past couple of weeks in the hospital with her son, said she feels restless as her son’s future remains uncertain.
“Oh, I’m real tired,” she said. “Just waiting on him to get better.”
Chicago police officials have cited the constant flow of illegal firearms through dangerous neighborhoods and an intractable gang problem — with some disputes beginning on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter — as strong contributors to the city’s violence.
In recent months, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has been pushing lawmakers in Springfield to pass legislation requiring harsher sentences for criminals arrested repeatedly for carrying illegal guns.
Earlier this month, Johnson met with several police chiefs from across the country to discuss the nation’s gun violence problem, noting that Chicago is among about 40 U.S. cities that have experienced spikes in violence over the last year after seeing years of record low drops in killings.
Cities like Milwaukee and Washington, D.C — both much smaller than Chicago in population — have seen homicide spikes that they haven’t experienced in more than two decades. Milwaukee police Chief Edward Flynn told reporters earlier this month how the city enjoyed six straight years of record low homicide totals, only to see 2015 end with its highest total in 25 years.
In Washington, D.C., homicides rose in 2015 for the first time in a decade, according to that city’s police chief, Cathy Lanier.
The surge in violence comes at a tumultuous time for the Chicago Police Department. It is still dealing with the aftermath of the court-ordered release of video showing Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing the teen as he walked away from police with a knife in his hand.
The public furor from the video’s release last November led Mayor Rahm Emanuel to fire Garry McCarthy as the superintendent. Murder charges were filed against Van Dyke, the head of the police oversight agency resigned, and the U.S. Department of Justice began a wide-ranging civil rights investigation into the department.
Earlier this year, the Tribune reported a precipitous drop in morale among Chicago police officers, based on interviews with officers.
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