Chief Cobb vows to take back the streets
CHAMPAIGN — Vowing to take control of the city's streets one night after a man was shot and killed near where children play, Chief Anthony Cobb said Champaign police are dealing with a dangerous new breed of gangs.
"These are not the gangs we were used to seeing in the '90s, where you had certain street gangs and a hierarchy. We don't have that here in Champaign," Cobb told The News-Gazette on Wednesday, blocks from where Allen M. Redding was shot multiple times after a car chase on Hedge Road.
"Now we have a hodgepodge of individuals working together. Sometimes they are friends today, but tomorrow they may be enemies. The dynamics are constantly changing, and drugs have a lot to do with it."
Police linked Tuesday's shooting to another less than 24 hours earlier, part of a dispute between two rival gangs. On Monday night, a man was shot in the leg while driving on West White Street.
Two incidents in two nights, following a similar script from the summer of 2013, left residents in the northwest Champaign community both frightened and frustrated.
"Enough is enough! Two summers of having these gangs going roughshod through our community is two summers too many," said Jamar Johnson, one of 116 people who gathered early Wednesday evening at the Jericho Missionary Baptist Church for what organizers called a Community Prayer for Peace Walk.
Champaign's police chief was among the group that walked seven blocks, gathered in a circle and said a prayer before heading back to the church, passing the spot on Hedge Road was shot a night earlier for the second time.
Cobb repeated a similar message Champaign police had during a two-week stretch in late May, when there were 15 reported incidents of shots fired.
"My message to the public is that we need to work together," Cobb told The News-Gazette. "There are a lot of people who are scared. But, even if you are scared, we still need for you to come forward. We need family members who know these individuals. We need to control our streets. The community needs to work together to resolve these issues.
"We are not going to tolerate this. Today's victim is tomorrow's suspect, and vice versa. My mom used to tell me bullets have no eyes, and there's been a lot of bullets that have been sprayed around our community."
Some of the walkers Wednesday sang hymns along the way; others held hands and shared hugs as they marched past the site of Tuesday's fatal shooting.
"Our effort tonight is to walk together," said Jericho Missionary Pastor Lekevie Johnson Sr. "We are praying against retaliation, and we are praying for peace."
"This endangerment of our young people really disturbs me," said church member Seon Williams. "If I could give a message to the gang members, it would be to start attending church and try to put more positive things in your life."
Said Sadie Smith, another walker: "What we need is for some of these gangbangers to find Jesus."
Champaign County NAACP President Patricia Avery said she was inspired to help organize Wednesday's walk as soon as she heard the news a night earlier.
"When I woke up this morning," she said, "it was as if God was telling me I've got to do something."
Avery called for both sides to lay down their guns and consider the consequences.
"If I was standing right in front of a gang member now, I would ask him if there is someone in his life that he loves," she said. "How would you feel if that person is no longer a part of your life? Every one of these young men have somebody who cares about them and that they care about."