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Mitchell: Jonylah Watkins’ death should have never happened

Updated: April 14, 2013 6:46AM



No one should have to grow up in the world Jonylah Watkins was born into.

On Monday, while we were living our lives, the 6-month-old baby was getting her diaper changed in the passenger seat of her father’s van when an unidentified shooter walked up and opened fire.

Police believe the father, Jonathan Watkins, was the intended target in retaliation for an alleged drug robbery.

Watkins is a reputed gang member with a long history of arrests. He was shot in the side and buttocks but survived.

A single bullet tore through Jonylah’s tiny body, hitting her right shoulder and exiting through the lower part of her body.

As of late Tuesday, no one was in custody and there were no cooperating witnesses.

This abhorrent act highlights the devastating impact isolated communities have on this city.

When the national headlines are written, they won’t say Jonylah was killed in “Woodlawn.” They will say this horrible crime happened in “Chicago.”

Those who live here know there are two Chicagos.

On one side of town, sirens and wails sweep across vacant lots and boarded-up buildings, and people are just trying to stay alive.

On the other side, cranes rise majestically above the hordes of people plugged into their toys, scurrying off to jobs and busy social lives.

I have no doubt these Chicagoans are genuinely appalled that an innocent baby was shot to death in broad daylight on the South Side of the city.

But like the images on TV of kids starving in war-torn countries, many of us can click off these horrible gun tragedies when we turn off the nightly news.

After all, these aren’t our children. It is not our fault.

Just like it is not our fault that law-abiding residents can’t find honest jobs in their neighborhoods, but outsiders have no problem finding a bag of weed or cocaine in these same neighborhoods.

Or it is not our fault there are too few good students in schools and too many uneducated people in jails.

We have accepted that the same Chicago that is a paradise for many is a hellhole for many others.

Many of us have turned a blind eye to the shortcomings that have led to this disparity. Those shortcomings include the business community’s disinvestment in neighborhoods now at the center of the gun violence.

Most will judge Jonylah’s parents harshly, and rightfully so.

They should have known the father’s gang ties could put this child at risk.

Last year, Heaven Sutton, 7, was killed when a gunman opened fire on the street where her mother was operating a late-night candy store. The mother claimed the shooting was a retaliation that did not involve her or her family.

But, according to police sources, both of Sutton’s parents have gang affiliations and criminal backgrounds.

In 2011, Arianna Gibson, 6, was shot while sleeping on her grandmother’s sofa. The alleged shooter fired through a window and injured two other teens in what police said was a gang dispute.

In 2006, Siretha White, 10, was killed in a gang-related shooting when a gunman fired at two men sitting on a porch and one of the bullets struck Siretha in the living room.

And in 2000, 12-year-old Tsarina Powell was gunned down while running from her bed. The shooter had a drug dispute with the girl’s relative and shot up the home.

There is, however, reason to hope.

Despite having a criminal background, Jonathan Watkins went against the grain and married his baby’s mother.

Despite having a 6-month old baby at home, Judy Watkins worked a minimum wage job at McDonald’s.

Apparently the couple was trying to rise above circumstances they, too, were born into.

While most of us were eating and sleeping Monday night, surgeons at Comer Children’s Hospital were frantically trying to save another innocent child. They couldn’t.

You should never have to say a child’s in a better place when death comes. But Jonylah is.

That’s a tragedy in itself.



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