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CHICAGO – It was almost a year ago when we met Stacy Liberty standing at the back of a church. Her son, Antoine Johnson, had just been shot and killed by Chicago police.
Her year has been difficult, trying every day not to cry in front of people. There are days that she gets up, thinking Antoine is going to come out of his room. But she knows he isn’t.
“I had just lost the world, basically,” she said.
Antoine’s brother, Artese, remembered going to the alley where he heard his brother had been shot.
“I just see a line of blood that’s like, it just draws your body down the alley,” Artese said. “I just picked up all the stuff – clothes I had on. I just wiped all the blood up with it.”
Artese showed us the clothes he used to wipe up his brother’s blood. The blood has dried, but the pain and the fear are still fresh.
“I didn’t want it to be there. It’s like I seen his brain, his guts, it was like everything was just laying there,” he said. “Why would I let it lay there? I’d rather take my brother with me.”
Liberty has three other sons still living at home and says she constantly worries about their safety.
“If one don’t answer the phone, I’m calling their friends,” Liberty said. So, every time they walk out the door, I’m not saying that guys that’s hanging out on the block [are] going to take them away from me. Shit, I never thought the police would take my child away from me. But they did. They did.”
Liberty is suing the Chicago Police Department for what she said is the wrongful death of her son. Police maintain that he was in possession of a 9 mm pistol, but his mom disputes that.
“We’re losing our kids,” she said. “These kids can’t even grow up to raise their own kids. They [are] leaving these kids’ parents to take care of their kids.”
In 2013, the FBI labeled Chicago the murder capital of America, focusing national attention on the gun violence plaguing its South Side. But on Monday, the city boasted a more promising statistic: The murder rate over the last year is the lowest since 1963, according to police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.
Though crime is down 14 percent compared with last year, according to McCarthy, shootings increased 6 percent over the same period. And between January and August of this year, there have been more than 1,250 shootings in Chicago – most of them by neighborhood gangs.
In response to those numbers, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has deployed more boots on the ground – an unpopular move with many locals who see the police as a hostile force.
A year after our Fight for Chicago series aired on America Tonight, we returned to the city's West and South sides to revisit some of characters we profiled – from gang members who live by the gun to Chicagoans who have lost loved ones and those fighting to stop the violence – to find out what, if anything, has changed.
'A daughter to live for'
Considered a model but controversial anti-violence program, Ceasefire employs former gang members who serve as "interrupters" to stop the cycle of violence in Chicago. But last year, the city cut funding for the anti-violence program, and two of its branches closed, including one in North Lawndale.
It was in those North Lawndale offices that we met Dakari Johnson and Cedrick Brody last summer, where a long-standing conflict between two rival gangs was being mediated. The gang Brody belonged to allegedly shot Johnson six times.
Ceasefire had Johnson and Brody walk through the neighborhood together, passing out anti-violence flyers, a move considered unprecedented at the time. We recently caught up with both of them.
“That was in the past,” said Johnson, referring to being shot six times. “You gotta get over it. Once you get over it, you just don’t look back.”
I ain’t trying to be involved in it. I got a whole daughter to live for. I ain’t trying to lose my life to this.
former gang member
Brody was less comfortable walking around and insisted on meeting in an area out of sight. Since we met him last summer, he was shot in the hand and his best friend was shot and killed next to him.
“I walk the street. I walk my neighborhood, but I don’t walk out no more,” Brody said. He added: “Lot of shooting and stuff. And then, you know, my name mixed up in stuff. I don’t know how. I ain’t trying to be involved in it. I got a whole daughter to live for. I ain’t trying to lose my life to this.”
Both young men said they have left the gang life behind. Brody plans to go to college. Johnson has since graduated from high school. With a baby on the way, Johnson avoids the temptations of his environment.
“I feel like I got responsibilities now because at first I felt I was free. I was wild and do whatever I wanted,” he said. “Now, I got somebody who gotta take the path that I set for them. And I gotta make a good path for myself and for our kid.”
Can't stop the bullets
The young woman carrying Johnson’s child is the daughter of someone else we met last year. Derek “Shotgun” Brown spent his nights patrolling the streets as part of Ceasefire. Once a chief in the notorious Vice Lords street gang, Brown took pride in helping mediate conflicts in the streets before they escalated to shootings. Today, despite Ceasefire’s lack of funding, he’s still doing his best to try to curb violence in the neighborhood and mentor young men.
His best efforts aside, Brown can’t stop the bullets from finding victims. Latrall Baker, an innocent bystander, was shot just two months earlier on the block we were standing on.
“I actually held him in my arms, trying to keep him alive, telling him just breath, calm down,” Brown remembered. He added: “There is only limited things I can do for them, and I’m just watching myself grow up again. I was telling him, ‘You almost became a wall.’”
Baker, who survived the shooting, doesn’t look at things differently after being shot.
“It ain’t something normal that you would want to happen,” he said, “but it’s something normal that will happen if you [are] around the stuff that’s going on.”
While Brown can offer these young men the benefit of his experience, he can’t give them a job – a ticket out of life on the street.
We sat down with Brown to watch some of the footage we shot with him last summer. In it, we see a boy named Bobby who said he was learning the drug-dealing game on the streets. When Brown asked Bobby to read something, which he did with ease, Brown recognized Bobby’s potential, calling him a leader and offering to coach him.
But just four months after that moment, Bobby was shot after breaking into someone’s home. He survived, but has since moved away from the neighborhood.
Brown said he coached Bobby a few times, but the 13-year-old was forced on the streets once the temperatures dropped. Bobby was just one of the 2,185 people shot in Chicago in 2013. (There have been more than 1,300 shooting victims so far this year). While another year has passed, the epidemic of violence has remained a way of life – and answers about how to change that remain elusive.
“[Bobby] and a gang of other kids, they was doing a lot of breaking-ins, and so the guy whose house he broke in ended up finding out that he was the one who went in his house,” Brown said. “This is a grown man … just shot a little kid.”