JOLIET – Rodney Cooper’s voice boomed through the streets surrounding Christ Temple Church in Joliet on Saturday.
Cooper, 22, walked down Second Avenue, heading toward Richards Street, as he prayed out loud for the victims of gun violence in recent weeks. Cooper was completing his march against the violence that has left several Joliet residents dead and stirred safety concerns in the community.
Joining behind him were close to 30 other residents, including church, police and city leaders.
“We ask you to heal, oh God,” Cooper said as he led the crowd. “Give them the mind, oh God, to be saved, oh God. Give them the mind to be healed. … We know violence is not the answer. Hatred is not the answer. Malice is not the answer.”
On Saturday, Cooper, leader of Chosen Generation Youth Outreach Ministries, worked with several other Joliet residents to hold an anti-violence rally in Joliet. At noon, residents gathered in the parking lot of Christ Temple Church to pray for victims and wake up the community to the violence that claimed their lives.
‘This is our community’
Quintrice Funches, 26, of Joliet said recent shootings left her four children scared and worried about playing outside. Funches, a Cornerstone Inc. residential supervisor, helped organize Saturday’s rally.
She said she wanted the prayer and rally to bring people together.
“It came from my heart to get into the streets,” she said. “This is our community, our city. It’s where we raise our kids. Let’s go and do this.”
Attending Saturday’s rally was Don Mayberry, cousin of Jourdyn J. Williamson, 20, who died March 10 from a gunshot wound to the head. Williamson was shot at Second Avenue and Richards Street.
Mayberry said Williamson was a hard worker who worked two jobs.
“She was a family person,” he said. “She was funny. She always kept us laughing.”
‘We need to stay strong and unified’
Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton said the city has seen a spike in gang violence since the holiday season. In response, police have worked to identify the factions responsible and continue to ask the public for help in their investigations.
“I think it is important we can continue to have these partnerships with the community,” Benton said. “We recognize this is a concern here recently. We need to stay strong and unified and work together to address safety concerns in the city.”
One man, who Joliet police say was a self-admitted gang member, was shot and killed by a police officer after allegedly pulling out his own gun during a chase. Another man, who was carrying two assault rifles and two pistols, was also shot and injured by police officers earlier this week.
Benton said the police department has increased its patrol, outreach and visibility in areas where recent shootings happened to let residents know they’re there for them. He told the marchers on Saturday police can’t solve the crimes by themselves and encouraged people to reach out to them.
‘It’s time to break
Several church leaders at the rally stressed the need for the community to work together to stop the violence. Warren Dorris, Prayer Tower Ministries pastor, said in the late 1980s Joliet had horrible gang activity and shootings. But the community worked with the police and established social programs to reduce crime.
“The community can’t sit on the sidelines and expect the police to do policing,” Dorris said. “We got to police ourselves.”
Herbert Brooks Jr., St. John M. B. Church pastor and Will County Board member, agreed police can’t do it alone.
“Somebody knows something,” Brooks said. “I have done a lot of funerals in the past 90 days. … It’s time to break the silence. We can solve some of these crimes.”
Lonnie Posley Sr., New Canaan Land Church pastor, encouraged people to continue to rally against violence. Posley is vice president of Men of Valor 2, a group dedicated to ending violence in the community.
“We must stay in the streets until we show we mean business,” Posley said. “The bullet does not have an eye. It will hit anyone.”
CONTACT THE POLICE
Anyone with information on crimes is encouraged to contact the Joliet Police Department at 815-726-2491, or anonymously call Crime Stoppers at 800-323-6734.