Approximately a dozen people gathered in front of the Chicago Police Department headquarters on the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 5 to publicize a $5,000 reward leading to the capture and conviction of the person who killed 20-year-old Evanston model Kaylyn Pryor.
Pryor was shot and killed on the evening of Nov. 2 as she was walking from her grandparents’ home in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood. A 15-year-old boy, who had been walking beside Pryor, was also shot, but he survived.
Just a month ago, Pryor won a highly prestigious modeling competition sponsored by celebrity hairstylist Mario Tricoci. Hours before her death, she had signed a professional contract with Factor Modeling.
Pryor could have been signing the contract around the time of Tyshawn Lee’s murder in the same neighborhood. Lee, 9, was shot several times in the head and neck on the afternoon of the day Pryor was killed. He was walking through an alley with the basketball those who knew him say he carried to school every day.
At Thursday’s press conference, in front of several network news cameras, Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin, called those who murdered Lee and Pryor “dream killers” and took to task the institutions responsible for curbing the violence that led to the two young people’s deaths.
“We all need to do more. Police, by all means, you need to do more. Politicians, they control multibillion-dollar budgets — certainly you can do more to put some jobs out here on the streets to give people some viable options,” Acree said.
“[And to my community], we need to break some of those old habits. It’s a shame if you are harboring a killer in your home. You need to speak up.”
Acree is co-chairman of the Leaders Network — an ecumenical organization of activist religious leaders who hail from all over Chicago and the suburbs. The $5,000 reward in connection with Pryor’s death came from the group’s coffers. The West Side pastor said he hopes the reward encourages residents who may have information about Pryor’s murder to turn it over to police.
“If you have a nine-year-old innocent baby like Tyshawn and a 20-year-old aspiring model like Kaylyn — if these people are being gunned down like dogs in the street, there is no hope for anyone else,” Acree said. “It’s vitally important that we speak up.”
Rev. Alan C. Taylor, senior minister at the Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist congregation, was recently added to the Leaders Network’s board of directors.
“We do this to keep our consciousness,” Taylor said, referencing the reward and press conference. “We’re interconnected and it makes a difference to how we relate to our wider environs. My congregation draws from people outside of Oak Park and I’m here because I truly believe we can make a difference when we build relationships beyond the current boundaries.”
“It’s important to stand together,” said Rev. Sally Iberg, pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oak Park and Leaders Network member. Iberg, who lives in Evanston, said she didn’t know Pryor before her untimely death, but she was drawn to attend Thursday’s gathering “because it’s important work to do.” She said, regardless of physical or social boundaries, “We all relate to each other.”
Alice Norris said she moved to Oak Park to escape having to duck and react to gunfire. Norris found herself entangled in Chicago’s web of gun violence on the night of Aug. 28, 1993, when her 14-year-old daughter, Rolanda Lakesia Marshall, was shot in the head while standing inside a West Side restaurant — the unintended victim of a drive-by shooting.
Marshall’s death is still unsolved. Norris said many of the city’s murders remain unsolved because residents in affected communities don’t communicate what they know about crimes to the police.
“The community knows — I believe that,” she said after Thursday’s press conference. “I moved out of my community because I suspected that the killer was within a four-block radius of where we lived.”
After Marshall’s death, Norris moved out of Chicago. She wanted to make life safe for her 11-year-old daughter, the sister Rolanda left behind. Norris moved to Maywood, Naperville, Woodridge and Hillside before settling in Oak Park.
But Norris has learned that nowhere is safe — not even relatively affluent places like Oak Park and Evanston.
“I know several parents in Evanston who have lost their kids to gun violence since the 1990s,” Norris said. “In America, we have come to accept that anything goes and somehow we have lost our standards, our moral compass.”
Rev. Jacques Conway, who pastors a church in Maywood and is a member of the Leaders Network, said he hopes Thursday’s press conference provides a jolt of awareness to a society that’s grown too complacent with children getting shot to death.
“We’ve become so numb to the violence that this is like another case,” Conway said. “I had someone from Africa email me about violence in Chicago. He asked, ‘What’s going on there? Is there a war happening?’ He’s concerned because there are blacks who are killing blacks.”
But Conway, a retired Oak Park police officer, said the justice system is partially to blame for this black-on-black crime.
“As faith leaders, the only thing we can do is call on the power higher than what we have in our justice system. Our justice system has let us down.”
Rev. Marshall Hatch, Sr., pastor of the New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park and co-chairman of the Leaders Network, also insisted that ultimate accountability for the killings rests with the police and the city government.
“Multiple institutions have responsibility, but the number one institution responsible for public safety are the people who work in this building — the Chicago Police Department,” he said, adding that McCarthy “absolutely has to step up to the plate.”
“The grief is deep enough,” Hatch said. “[The gun violence] has now turned into an international embarrassment [given what] has happened this week. Of course, the people primarily responsible for public safety [are] the police superintendent and the mayor.”