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To save kids, residents must turn up the heat on criminals

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Updated: August 10, 2013 6:32AM

Boys and girls ought to be able to play in the park.

But in some Chicago neighborhoods, parents have to lock up their children to keep them safe.

“They don’t want to go outside anymore. They don’t want to live in the city of Chicago anymore. They’re sitting in the house, playing video games. They can’t even go swimming,” Adonis Hewlett, 34, told reporters after the shooting at Cooper Park.

Hewlett was one of three people wounded early Friday when a gunman fired into the park on 117th Street in the Pullman neighborhood after a fireworks display.

Jaden Donald, 5, remains in critical condition after undergoing several surgeries. Another man, Jesse Strong, suffered a shattered shin.

Darrell E. Chambers, 24, an alleged gang member, was charged in the shootings.

Several hours earlier at Cole Park in the South Side’s Chatham neighborhood, a 7-year-old boy was shot twice in the head when a different gunman opened fire. That suspect is still on the loose.

The wounded children were among the dozens of gunshot victims maimed over the long Fourth of July weekend, and 10 people were killed by gun violence.

You’d have to be as soulless as a zombie to fire into a park where families gather and children play.

But unfortunately, the blatant violence against Chicago’s children is not new.

Dantrell Davis was 7 when he was fatally shot by a sniper in 1992. He was walking hand-in-hand with his mother, Annette Freeman, to Jenner Elementary School in the CHA’s Cabrini-Green housing development.

The senseless shooting sparked outrage across the city and brought national attention to the violence in public housing.

Cabrini-Green and other dangerous high-rises have been torn down, but the problem of gang members killing innocents remains.

“My son got killed in my face,” Freeman told me in a telephone interview on Monday.

“I couldn’t protect him. The shooters never get who they are aiming for. They are cowards in the first place. They really don’t want to fight, but they don’t have nobody to get in the middle and be that person to stop it,” she said. But she said suggestions of calling up the National Guard to quell the violence is misguided.

“The only people that can save us is us,” Freeman said. “If no one steps in and says anything, it is going to get worse. Instead of sitting around talking about it, pull a kid to the side and tell them their faults in a respectable way.”

Freeman also pointed out that a lot of the young black males who are creating havoc on the street today have gotten caught up in a Catch-22 because of past mistakes.

For instance, in Freeman’s case, an unlawful use of a weapon charge still haunts her and is a roadblock when she applies for jobs even though the charges are more than a decade old. “When you understand how this is trickling down to gangs — the lack of funds, lack of jobs, lack of opportunities and real second chances — you see why it is crazy to spend millions bringing out the National Guard,” she said.

Freeman now lives on the South Side and says she is “prayerful” when she is out and about on her block.

“When I see something, I say something because when I call the police, sometimes they don’t even come, and when they do come, they have a bad attitude,” she said.

“I’m not giving up. I put on my armor of God and I talk about the reality: ‘How are you out here fighting your own people?’ We’ve got to stand up as parents and grown-ups and stop sitting on our porches waiting on a fight,” she said.

“War starts somewhere. Peace has to start somewhere. I still hurt about my son every day, all day,” she said.

Wallace “Gator” Bradley, a former gang enforcer who founded the United in Peace organization after Dantrell was killed, warns that baby killers aren’t going to get a warm reception when they are brought to justice.

“We need to get the message out that the community is fed up. The guys behind the wall are saying that these guys who are doing all this killing won’t get no love or honor,” he said.

I’m all for trying to redirect a young person, but there’s no talking to armed thugs who would shoot up a park on the Fourth of July when they know children are present.

The City of Chicago has done its part by partnering with churches to create safe havens and boosting the programs at parks.

But community residents need to turn up the heat on the criminals that are making it impossible for so many black children to have a normal childhood.

If not, black children are going to continue to die like dogs in the street — or be held like hostages in their own homes.

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