(CHICAGO) — The latest number signifying how bad Chicago’s violence has become is a small one: 7.
That’s how old Heaven Sutton was when she died Wednesday night of a gunshot to the back. She was selling candy at a stand in front of her house when someone down the street opened fire. A stray bullet struck her as she ran to the safety of her home.
“She loved to sing, dance and crack jokes. And she always smiled,” her mother, Ashake Banks, told ABC News. Banks had opened the stand to keep a closer watch on and protect children in her violent neighborhood on Chicago’s west side. “There was already shooting in the neighborhood,” she said. “So I figured that if I set up a big tent and a candy store, it would keep the kids in the middle of the block instead of going down to the [corners] where all the activity was.”
Banks believes the shooter was a gang member targeting someone else in the crowd near the stand. She had hoped the gangs would stay away from a place meant for kids. “But they really didn’t even care. …They killed my baby.”
Heaven’s death is the latest of 253 murders so far this year in what has become a numbing drumbeat of violence. But her killing may be a crescendo. It prompted an angry Mayor Rahm Emanuel to lecture the gangs driving this staggering 38 percent increase in Chicago homicides.
Asked about this shooting at an economic development event, the mayor said, “This is not about crime. This is about values. Take your gang conflict away from a 7-year-old. Who raised you? You have a 7-year-old selling lemonade. You’re a member of a gang coming to get lemonade and another gang member is driving by. Where were you raised and who raised you?” His voice rising and pointing his finger, he continued sternly, “Stay away from the kids!”
This emotional and personal approach is new for the mayor, who has focused on announcing various police and community tactics in previous comments on the spike in murders and shootings here.
Another different approach came earlier this week when police gave the details of a $1 million partnership with CeaseFire, an organization that relies on ex-gang members to mediate conflicts and prevent violence. The controversial deal will put 40 “interrupters,” as the group calls them, on the streets in two of the city’s most violent neighborhoods.
Ashake Banks welcomes any kind of help “to stop the shooting.”
She and Heaven were planning a trip to Disney World next month, a reward for the girl’s good grades this year. Instead, Ashake now plans a march with neighbors to send a message and a challenge: “They cannot get away with just killing my baby. They shot her in the back and she was just seven years old.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio