West Side clergy leaders gathered on the corner of Central and Ohio avenues in Austin on Father's Day afternoon to speak out against the murder of a 3-year-old who was killed on the block the day before.
Mekhi James, of Skokie, was killed after "someone opened fire at his father while they were driving Saturday evening," according to a Fox 32 Chicago report.
"The toddler was struck in the back about 6:25 p.m. when someone in a blue Honda pulled behind the black SUV the boy's 27-year-old father was driving in the 600 block of North Central Avenue and fired several rounds, according to Chicago Police Chief of Operations Fred Waller," Fox reported, adding that James' father may have been the intended target of the shooting, a police source said.
At Sunday's press conference, members of the Leaders Network, the West Side faith-based social justice group, stood with Rev. Ira Acree, the pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin, to announce a $2,500 reward Acree and his church was offering for any information leading to the capture of the suspect.
"We're here today, because we cannot pastor in this community and not say something," Acree said. "It would be ashamed for us not to pause and say that this kind of ruthless criminal activity is not accepted here in Austin … a 3-year-old was gunned down. A baby! … A line has been crossed."
Rev. Marshall Hatch, the pastor of the New Mt. Pilgrim MB Church in Garfield Park, said that he lives just a few blocks away from where the murder took place. He said he felt compelled to attend Sunday's news conference to speak out against the shooting.
"We say his name! Mekhi James! His life matters, as well," Hatch said. "None of us can go forward with a simple Father's Day dinner without coming to this corner on the block where this baby lost his life in what really is a scandalous crime."
Hatch said that the Leaders Network would add $2,500 to that Acree's reward.
Community activist Zerlina Smith also chipped in.
"I'm working, middle-class Black woman and I get a check," Smith said. "I'm going to donate out of my paycheck $500 to Rev. Acree to make sure if anybody knows something going on in this community that you step up and say something."
"There should be 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 people on the streets right now shutting down the Black community until we get it right," said anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman. "Black men need to shut down the Black community until we get it right!"
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