Speaking at the funeral of a 19-year-old Evanston man who died in a shooting, just a few hours after another Evanston man was shot and critically injured, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl described the situation as “a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions,” and called for an end to violence.
“Let us have peace on the streets of the city of Evanston,” she exhorted a crowd of several hundred who gathered Saturday morning at Faith Temple Church of God in Christ in Evanston. “The city cannot stop the violence, not alone. We cannot do it without the community.”
Tisdahl was one of several people who spoke at the funeral of Justin Murray, a 2011 Evanston Township High School grad who was shot and killed in front of his grandmother’s home in the 1800 block of Brown Avenue Nov. 29. Police say they believe the shooting may be gang-related, although they also say there are no indications that Justin himself was in a gang. There are no suspects in custody yet.
In what police believe may have been a retaliation for Justin’s death, another young Evanston man was shot multiple times in the early morning hours before Justin’s funeral, according to police. Police say they are also investigating whether Justin’s death is connected to the homicide of 23-year-old Marcus Davis in September 2010. Justin was related to one of the people in that incident, according to Police Cmdr. Jason Parrott.
“This is a tragedy as old as the Hatfields and McCoys, the Montagues and the Capulets,” Tisdahl said.
Tisdahl praised Justin’s mother, Carolyn Murray, as “one of the unsung heroines of our community.” Carolyn Murray began trying to organize a gun buyback program last summer, long before her son was killed. After 14-year-old Dajae Coleman died in a shooting this September, city officials got behind Murray’s program, and several local nonprofits pitched in funds. The city’s first gun buyback event is scheduled for Dec. 15 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Christ Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 1711 Simpson St.
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“We can save lives by getting the guns off our streets,” Tisdahl said. “Let us honor Justin by continuing Carolyn’s work.”
The day he was shot, Justin had just flown in from California, where his mother says he had moved to attend college. He came home to visit family, including a close friend who was on leave from the military.
“19-year-olds should be full of life,” Tisdahl said. “19-year-olds should not need to be sent out of town to keep them safe, but some need that.”
Other local officials and pastors offered a similar message.
Former second ward alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste said that when he got the news of Justin’s death, he thought of his own two sons.
“Your heart gets heavy, because you realize it could have been yours,” he said.
Jean-Baptiste said he had worked with Carolyn Murray on several nonviolence programs and other community initiatives, but said the recent shootings showed that they hadn’t reached people at the level they needed to.
“Do we really think that the extraction of a life for another life solves our problems?” he said. “Are we training our babies to now turn into pit bulls?”
Ald. Delores Holmes (5th ward), said she, too had worked with Carolyn Murray, and that most of her contacts with Justin had been when he accompanied his mother to community service programs. Holmes praised Carolyn Murray for setting an example for her son, and compared her situation to that of Manteo Mitchell, the Olympic sprinter who broke his leg and completed the race anyway.
“I know you can do the same by carrying on your passion of service to others,” she said, speaking directly to Carolyn Murray.
Friends, teachers and family members who knew Justin well said they remembered his warm smile most of all.
Orlando Clemmons, a former teacher, said Justin’s broad smile was the first thing he noticed about the student in class. He said he and Justin became close and often had long talks, during which Justin would sometimes cry about a particularly emotional topic.
“I said, ‘Never be ashamed to cry, because that means you’ve got a big heart,” Clemmons said.
Justin’s cousin, L.A. Creech, who flew in from New York for the funeral, said he remembered Justin’s curiosity and “contagious smile.” He also said Justin stood out as “not normal.”
“It takes something to come from what we come and appear normal,” he said. “It takes something to come from what we come and appear happy, to actually be happy and strong.”
Tyrone Gibbs, Jr., a friend, described Justin as “a son, a brother and a friend to a lot of us.”
“Every day he called my phone, and if not, I called him,” Gibbs said.
He paused for a long moment, bowing his head, apparently unable to go on. Someone called out from the audience, “It’s all right.”
“It’s not all right,” Gibbs said, lifting his head. “It’s not all right that we have to bury him today. It’s not alright that what happened to him happened to him.”