Last year, 12-year-old Zarriel Trotter spoke out against the violence roiling his Chicago neighborhood.
“I don’t want to live around my community where I’ve got to keep on hearing and hearing: People keep on getting shot, people keep on getting killed,” Trotter said in a public-service announcement about the effect of gun violence on the city’s black youths.
The February 2015 video won an award, but gun violence in Chicago got only worse.
And on Friday, in a tragic twist, Trotter, became one of its latest victims.
Trotter, now 13, was struck by a stray bullet Friday night while walking home after playing basketball, according to the Chicago Tribune. He was shot in the back, close to his spine, and remains in critical condition. No one else was injured, and there have been no arrests so far.
The teenager was one of more than a dozen people injured in shootings across Chicago on Friday, according to the Tribune. The city has had a spike in shootings so far this year, with shootings nearly double what they were at this point last year and homicides up 84 percent, according to the New York Times.
So far this year, the city is averaging more than seven shootings and one homicide per day.
Trotter’s shooting follows a handful of other high-profile incidents of gun violence, including a shootout on Lake Shore Drive, a drive-by in front of a ritzy downtown hotel, the wounding of three Chicago police officers during a gun battle with a suspect earlier this month and, most notably, the Nov. 2 gang execution of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee.
The surge in gun violence is poses a challenge for police and the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who have faced criticism for their handling of police-involved shootings.
Some advocates fear that the bloody winter and spring bodes ill for warmer months, when shootings normally increase.
“Unless something radical takes place, it’s going to be a bloodbath this summer,” the Rev. Ira Acree told the Times.
In early 2015, Chicago advertising agency Burrell Communications Group picked Trotter’s West Side charter school, Catalyst Circle Rock, as the location for a public-service announcement about the toll of gun violence on black boys.
In the video, seven of the school’s male students talk about feeling scared and sad as shootings continue around them.
“It makes me feel like I’m a target in the world,” one student said.
Trotter, a handsome basketball player with a beaming smile and the nickname “Zari,” spoke midway through the minute-long video. Just 12 years old at the time, he expressed exhaustion about the never-ending stream of shootings in Austin, his Chicago neighborhood.
In the year since that video debuted, though, shootings in Austin have gotten much worse.
From Jan. 1 through March 26, there were 46 shootings in the neighborhood, more than twice the number during the same period in both 2015 and 2014, a CPD spokesman told the Times.
On Friday night, Trotter went from being a budding spokesman on gun violence to one of those statistics.
Trotter was walking home about 8:30 p.m. after playing basketball when a heated argument broke out between two groups on the street. A man from one group pulled out a gun and fired shots, Chicago police spokesman Veejay Zala told the Tribune.
“It was a girl fight and, you know, you hear them arguing and then someone fired two shots,” a witness told CBS Chicago.
“I looked out the window, the kid was shot on the curb over there,” another witness told the television station.
A bullet hit Trotter in the back. He was not the intended target, police said.
“He is a good kid,” Malkey Cobb, the boy’s great-uncle, told the Tribune. “It’s horrible that kids get shot up like this.”
The shooting happened just a couple of blocks from Trotter’s home — and from his school, where the PSA was filmed.
“It was disheartening,” the school’s principal, Elizabeth Jamison-Dunn, said of the shooting, adding that it followed another incident a week earlier in which four men were shot a block from the school. She called Trotter a “great young man” and a “great big brother” to his younger brother, with whom Zari walks to school each day.
“Every morning he greets me with a big smile on his face, which makes my day,” Jamison-Dunn told the Tribune. “I feel horrible that this happened to him.”
She added that Trotter is involved in the school’s mentoring and tutoring programs.
“He is a valued member of our school community,” the principal said. “We love him. He’s our child. We want him to get better.”
Trotter remained in critical condition after surgery on Saturday, according to the Tribune. He is sedated and hasn’t been able to speak, Jamison-Dunn told the newspaper.
The bullet barely missed his spine, according to CBS Chicago.
Like the death of Tyshawn Lee, Trotter’s shooting has become a symbol of Chicago’s ongoing struggle to combat gun violence.
If Trotter’s shooting was a sign of how random many shootings are in the beleaguered city, then Lee’s showed how terrifyingly targeted they can be, as well.
Lee, another basketball lover, was lured into a South Side alley and shot in the head and back at close range, according to police. The basketball the 9-year-old had been bouncing was found near his body.
Then-Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy called the slaying “probably the most abhorrent, cowardly, unfathomable crime” he had seen in his 35-year-career, according to the Tribune.
Officers said they believed Lee was killed because of his father’s gang ties and a recent series of shootings between rival gangs.
Two men were charged in connection to the crime. Then, earlier this month, Lee’s father, Pierre Stokes, was arrested in the shooting of the girlfriend of one of the men. Two others were wounded in the latest round of retaliatory shootings.
The alleged motives of the two child shootings differ: One was cruelly plotted while the other was committed in the heat of an argument.
The reason behind the broader spike in Chicago shootings remains unclear, though.
Some officers say the spike in crime is connected to police’s “backing off” since Nov. 24, when a white officer was charged with murder in the 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald. Police video showed the officer, 14-year-veteran Jason Van Dyke, shooting McDonald 16 times. McDonald had a knife in his hand but did not appear to be threatening the officers.
This year, Chicago police officers have recorded 20,908 instances in which they stopped, patted down and questioned people for suspicious behavior, according to the Times. That is compared with 157,346 in the same period last year. Gun seizures have also dropped, from 1,413 at this point last year to 1,316 so far in 2016.
“They’re being videotaped at every traffic stop,” Dean Angelo Sr., president of the police department’s union, told the newspaper.
Earlier this month, then-interim police superintendent John J. Escalante said that low morale was behind the drop in stops and the rise in crime.
“In the immediate aftermath of the Laquan McDonald video, as a department, we struggled to get our officers to understand that they had our support,” Escalante told WTTW.
“We are aware that there’s a concern among the rank and file about not wanting to be the next YouTube video that goes viral,” he added in a video statement praising officers for their response to protests.
The drop in street stops could be a result of a January change in police department policy that required officers to fill out more paperwork per stop. The department has since simplified its forms, and stops have begun to increase.
Whatever its cause, the surge in shootings is scaring Chicago’s citizens.
“We have a tremendous amount of teenagers being shot and a lot of mothers worried whether their children are coming back home or not,” community activist Andrew Holmes told CBS Chicago.
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