Standing together: A rally against violence
CHAMPAIGN — His rap sheet includes charges of robbery, burglary and weapons violations, which led to multiple stints behind bars.
And E.V. Davis considers himself one of the lucky ones: He lived to tell 130 people about it Sunday afternoon at Douglass Park during the "Saving Our Community: Making a Stand" rally against violence.
"The Gangster Disciples are a gang that originated in Chicago and came to Champaign," Davis said. "I was a gangbanger with the Gangster Disciples. Not only was I a gangbanger, but I was a dope user. I was a dope smoker, and I sold all kinds of drugs."
His message Sunday, about a block from where 22-year-old Rakim Vineyard was shot to death three weeks earlier: Look at me now.
"I'm here to tell you that, if God can change me, he can change anybody," Davis said.
After being released from jail in 1997, Davis said he was determined to start life anew. He now serves as associate minister at the New Life Church of Faith in Urbana and Danville, and seizes every opportunity he gets to share his story.
Sunday provided just the forum. The two-hour event brought together police, pastors, politicians and one former gang member — Davis. All shared a common theme in their messages.
"We as a people need to come together and stop hating on the next man," Davis said. "We need to get together with that brother.
"No matter what is happening in your life, don't forget you are somebody," he said. "Don't kill each other. When one person kills another, not only is one person going to the grave, but the other is going to the penitentiary, so we are losing two people."
The Rev. Darrin Smith, associate pastor of the Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church of Champaign, echoed Davis' call for peace during Sunday's rally.
"We need to take back our streets and take back our youth," Smith said. "No more deaths in Champaign-Urbana from gunfire."
Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb said maintaining a dialogue with the community — and involving people of faith — is a step forward.
It's a message he has repeated frequently in recent weeks, following two fatal shootings in the city just 25 days apart.
"First, talk with your loved ones about it," Cobb told the crowd. "You need to have a conversation with your children, grandchildren and cousins. We have had situations in which young people have weapons and have taken them to their aunt's, uncle's and grandparents' homes.
"Second, if you are a gun owner and young people enter your home, is your weapon at home? Is it unloaded and secure? We have to be responsible with our weapon as gun owners.
"And when these (shootings) happen, make sure you are safe and your children are safe."
Cobb also stressed the importance of witnesses or people with information speaking to police.
"I might know who pulled the trigger — and my officers might know who pulled the trigger — but if we don't have tangible evidence to take to the court before a judge and jury, there will not be any consequences," he said.
Another speaker Sunday, Urbana schools Superintendent Don Owen, told the story of an 8-year-old in the district who was shot in the head by his 15-year-old cousin on July 1.
The weapon was a flare gun, fitted with a makeshift barrel to fire a shotgun shell. Police believe the gun belonged to an adult male relative of the teen.
"There was a gun in the home and a family member messing around," Owen said.
"We almost lost a fourth-grader who took a shotgun blast to the head. I got to see him last week at registration, and he is doing OK.
"If you have a gun in your home, it needs to be locked up. It needs to be unloaded. It needs to be out of the reach of a child."