Tuesday, September 3, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Brenda Windmon, 48, still has a photo of her 14-year-old brother, Michael Jones, which was snapped as he lay in the hospital near death and recently removed from surgery, his head swaddled in gauze the color of staunched blood, his face obscured by tape and tubes.
Windmon swipes the screen of her cracked smart phone and suddenly the glass, shattered in place, fills with the image of Jones in his coffin, wearing a Mustangs uniform.
She swipes again.
Texts she recently exchanged with her brother show a moment of contrition, an encouraging emoji, a silent conversation of dos and don’ts, of who and what and where and why — the worried syntax of a woman trying to keep up with a black boy, one big for his age, who is growing, in Maywood, into a man.
Windmon says that her mother, Betty Jones, had raised Michael since he was three weeks old and adopted him when he was six. Betty has Alzheimer’s, says Windmon, who added that she’d been Michael’s caretaker for the last four years since her mother had taken ill.
On the afternoon of Aug. 30, Jones had just left the doctor’s office and was walking to Irving Middle School, 805 S. 17th Ave., to pick up his niece, Windmon’s daughter.
Michael Jones, pictured with his adopted mother, Betty Jones (second to right), and sisters Betty Windmon (far left) and Tiara Hall (far right). | Photo provided
“He had to get a football physical and a regular school physical,” Windmon said, adding that Jones had graduated from eighth grade earlier that year.
“He had come out here to Irving to get his birth certificate. He wanted me to put him Proviso East. He lived in Maywood all his life but when mama got sick, she moved out south with her sisters and Michael was coming back and forth.
“He was walking down Warren,” Windmon says, pointing in the direction of the street, which is a curl route away from where she’s standing, on the other side of the grassy expanse that is Conner-Heise Memorial Park, where Jones would often play football with friends.
Windmon is here, on a Saturday afternoon, for a vigil hosted by Phyllis Duncan, a community activist who founded Mothers of Murdered Sons (MOMS) after her own son was killed several years ago. Duncan says that she organized the vigil to show that Maywood cares and because she refuses to normalize the death of a 14-year-old boy.
“It was more than four shots that was fired. I’m thinking people probably know something but they not saying,” Windmon says. “The area is drug- and gang-infested. We probably never going to find out who did it or why.”
For Betty, the grief is not so perplexing and comes in fits and starts. Her mourning is indirect but her loved ones know it when they see it, Windmon says.
“She gets mad and she don’t want to be around no kids, because she doesn’t see Michael,” she says of her mother. “I’m really hurting for my mama, because she used to pray all the time that she’d never lose a child out in these streets and she lost a child out in these streets,” she says. “In a park.”
“Who took Michael’s life? Why would someone kill a 14-year-old boy who just wanted to be a football player, who wanted to go to Proviso East, who wanted a jersey? Michael wanted to play football,” Duncan says into a bullhorn.
Phyllis Duncan, founder of Mothers of Murdered Sons, talks through a bullhorn on Saturday, September 30, 2017, during a Vigil for Micheal Jones. | Sebastian Hidalgo
“I walked this community — 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th — and I passed out flyers for two weeks,” Duncan says. “Most of them wouldn’t even open their doors. I put the flyers in their mailboxes. You can’t tell me that this young man lost his life on this street and no one saw it. I talked to a lady on the corner who said she saw a red car drive up and heard four gunshots. The next thing she know, she saw Michael on the ground.”
Windmon says that Maywood police detectives haven’t told her much more than that. A red car had been retrieved at the scene and detectives were examining footage on surveillance cameras in the area, Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley said several weeks ago.
“I thought I’d come here and they’d tell me something that I don’t know but still nothing,” Windmon says.
Jesse FX Ingram — a retired, 27-year Maywood police lieutenant who worked on homicides and gangs in the village and is currently a student resource officer at Proviso East and a security guard with District 89 — says he knew Jones when the teenager attended Irving the year before he moved with his mother.
“We are the best teachers for our community,” Ingram says. “The men have got to really step up. In the Nation of Islam, we do training. We go out in our neighborhoods in a program called 10,000 Fearless. Go into your community, police your own community. This does not negate the police department, but why do they need to tell young men to pull up their pants or put away liquor while children are coming through?”
Bishop Reginald Saffo, the pastor of United Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Maywood and chairman of the Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance Network, says that he wants residents in Maywood to do away with the idea of it being a ‘hood.’
“We are going to have to disallow those who are without conscious of community to dictate the course of the community,” Saffo says. “We’re going to have to establish for ourselves those of us who are adults. I don’t look for children to dictate where we should go. I look for children to understand they must follow, but we have to lead the way.
“We have to divorce ourselves from this notion and this narrative that we are a hood,” he adds. “We have to restore neighbor back to the hood, because if you don’t do that, you lose consciousness about what this is all about. There’s nothing good that comes out of a hood.”
Community members lock hands in prayer on Saturday, September 30, 2017, during a Vigil for Micheal Jones. | Sebastian Hidalgo
Maywood Police officer Pirsia Allen says that “detectives are working diligently on the case,” before telling Windmon, “Don’t give up hope. We’re doing the best we can and we’re going to keep the faith that God is going to bring justice and peace to you. To the rest of you, somebody knows something. When you don’t speak up and speak out, you give the criminals the victory.” VFP