Peace walkers, including (back left to right): Lennel Grace, president of NOMCO; Trustee Michael Rogers; Germaine Porter; Phyllis Duncan; and state Rep. Chris Welch (7th). Other walkers included Environmental Beautification Commission chairman Laura Lange. Below, a young woman holding a sign at the spot where Michael Brandon was found dead.
Monday, June 15, 2015 || By Michael Romain || Updated: 7:18 PM
MAYWOOD || Last Saturday, June 13, a small band of community members marched down St. Charles Road, from 5th Avenue to 17th Avenue, and converged on the corner lawn space where the body of 28-year-old Michael Brandon may have lain for up to three hours the morning of June 7, before first responders came to the scene, according to eye witness accounts.
The man’s death from multiple gunshot wounds was all the more tragic given that he was the brother of recently elected village trustee Isiah Brandon, 25. On Saturday, community leaders from various governmental bodies and social organizations braved the ominous rain clouds in a small show of solidarity — both to commemorate a young man lost to violence and a young man who many in attendance believes to be something of the embodiment of the town’s future direction.
“This is symbolic,” said state Rep. Chris Welch (7th) of the small march and vigil. “It’s important we show [Isiah Brandon], a leader in this community, our support for him and his family. At the same time, we’re sending a message to these thugs and punks out here that we’re stronger than them and that we stand together. This is our community, these are our streets and we’re going to take them back.”
Phyllis Duncan, a mother who lost her own son to gun violence in 2005 and is the founder of Mothers of Murdered Sons (MOMS), said the walk was a spontaneous idea after she and some members of her organization learned of the elder Brandon’s death.
“We hadn’t planned a peace walk yet, we were really waiting until all the kids got out of school and that we could organize something with all the village officials and community leaders, but after we had heard about Isiah’s brother losing his life, [Germaine Porter, MOMS’ director of outreach], came to me [with the idea]. She grew up with Isiah and Michael and the rest of them. [Their mother] had five children. She now has two, so we thought it was necessary to bring to the community’s attention this murder of this young man and give support to the Brandon family.”
“I’ve had enough of the violence in our community,” said Porter to the roughly dozen people gathered on the lawn of an apartment complex. “I’m tired of burying children. I’m tired of going to funerals. But this is home for me. Trustee Brandon and his family is my family. For us to take such a senseless death in our community on the corner in the middle of the night and no one was aware and no one can give us an answer and no one has a clue is unjust.”
“I’ve been to a hundred funerals in 10 years,” said Duncan. “And that kind of messed me up. I’m not just talking about young men, but young women, too. You don’t get over this kind of thing. You just get through it. But when you are constantly hearing the same news everyday about another child being murdered it just takes you back to the time when you had to bury your child.”
Duncan said she sympathized with Maywood police and understand that the department is stretched thin on manpower and resources, but that law enforcement officials nonetheless need to be held accountable for the treatment of relatives of those who have been murdered.
“I heard this young man laid in this grass for two to three hours,” she said. “I’ve been to sights where young men are just lying in the streets in their blood. They’re not covered up. People are walking by, taking pictures and all that. The police need sensitivity training. They need to know how to deal with the victim and the parents of children who are losing their lives. We need to talk to the hospitals, because I have moms coming to me saying they can’t even see their sons and daughters when they’re murdered. There are ways of doing things differently. It’s time out for business as usual.”
Maywood trustee Michael Rogers, who praised Brandon’s resilience (he was present at a board meeting three days after hearing the news of his brother’s death), said that the community should be patient with the police. Two officers from the department were present at the vigil, one of whom said that they were there to pay their respects.
“On behalf of the police department, please don’t say that nothing’s being done,” Rogers said. “Sometimes, because these are covert operations, you can’t go and tell everybody that you’re right on the cusp of [making an arrest]. But I would encourage you to give them the benefit of the doubt and continue to be participants in things like M.A.P.S. [Maywood Alternative Policing Strategies], continue to have neighborhood watch, continue to call the police and continue to let us as officials know when you think that things might be moving too slow.”
Those who spoke at the vigil proposed a range of solutions to the rash of violence in the community.
Barbara Cole, the founder and executive director of Maywood Youth Mentoring, said that programs should be implemented that encourage relationship-building between the community and police.
“We need to build relationships with the police … so that people won’t be afraid of the police and police won’t be afraid of us,” she said.
Proviso Township School District 209 Board of Education President Theresa Kelly proposed that churches become more involved in the community and said that more youth programming should be implemented.
“We have a million churches in Maywood, let’s get them caring about our youth,” Kelly said. “They can do much better than what they’re doing. Let’s get these parks open, let’s get these schools open, and some constructive programs in these places. And for the state representative, let’s bring back some money here to Maywood so we can have more programs.”
Welch addressed the recent state budget crisis, noting that its implications could directly affect community outreach programs in Maywood.
“What’s going on in Springfield has everything to do with what’s going on out here on these streets,” Welch said. “The Democratic Party has passed a budget and sent it to Governor Rauner that protects funding for CeaseFire, protects funding for youth employment this summer, provides mental health service and all the critical things that are important to people of color, people living in poverty, the elderly, children — you name it.”
The most rousing speech was delivered by David Pollard, a Chicago Tribune reporter who used to cover Maywood issues for the town’s now-defunct newspaper, Pioneer Press.
“Maywood needs some snitches,” Pollard said. “I’ve watched this young man, covered him since he was a teenager,” he said of Trustee Brandon.
“He was proactive, involved. I’m sure he’s thinking, ‘I’m trying to make a change, but it’s affecting me personally. Should I just pull back, throw my hands up?’ I say everybody here should call the mayor’s office and the police department tonight and tell them this man needs some justice. He is the only one. He’s a young man. Who are you going to lead Maywood in the hands of? We’ve got to stand up for him. We need some snitches, because he needs some justice! He is the future of Maywood.”
That future stood silently, an off-center radius of the semi circle’s affection, his head bowed. When everyone had delivered his or her comforting remarks, he had his own words of inspiration. After telling the crowd that his mother, who has lost two other sons to gun violence, decided that she’d be moving out of Maywood, he struck a note of defiance.
I just hope that you guys stay involved, stay on the front lines, hold the leadership accountable,” Brandon said. “Your involvement will make the difference. I heard it was a [gang] war over here in this area, but I will be back in this area — whether it’s walking or jogging. I feel safe in Maywood … I feel safe in this community and I won’t be a prisoner in my own community. That’s unacceptable.”
Trustee Brandon explains circumstances of brother’s death in his own words; says mother is moving out of the village
These are Brandon’s extended comments during last Saturday’s peace walk:
My family moved here in the 1990s from DuPage County, so there were certain amenities that we were used to, such as a club house and a 7-Eleven. My grandmother bought a home at 9th and School Street. At the time, there was a park district across the street from us that was functioning very well, with programs and activities for everybody. I got connected really fast in Maywood and became involved in the process. I love this community, because it has given so much to me. A lot of you have seen me grow up in this community.
I was just telling a friend of mine the other day how much I hate looking at my village cell phone, because every time it vibrates, it’s usually something bad that happened in Maywood — another crime, another murder. When I received the alert about what happened to my brother, I was definitely thrown all the way off track and it’s definitely a crazy situation.
What we know is that my brother was coming home my cousin’s house who lives on 19th and St Charles. He was walking down St. Charles when he got shot somewhere in this area [on the corner of 17th and St. Charles]. We believe he was running and fell out by this tree.
Some people say, ‘Well why was he out that late.’ Well, let me tell you. There have been times when I have traveled through Oak Park and Forest Park coming from friends’ homes. You see people out walking their dogs and jogging early in the morning. Maywood can be the exact same way.
As I was telling the police, a day [after his brother was killed], someone got shot in this exact same area [where his brother died]. I have a problem with that. It is unacceptable.
We are in a hot zone. I was informed that there is a war happening. We can’t allow people to come in and take over our streets and our community. That’s unacceptable. There should have never been another crime two days after a major crime has taken place in the exact same area. Just a couple blocks down the road, one of the guys in my mentoring program was shot on the day of his prom. that should never be the case in the village. So, we are all responsible, every single one of us, for what happens in this community.
I’m sad to report that my mother has found a place outside of Maywood. She will be moving really really soon, because she has endured a lot. She had five kids, now she’s down to two. That’s a story that most people can’t handle. I’m so happy she knows God and has a connection with God, because she is doing better than I had expected. VFP
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