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16-year-old honor student’s life stolen by Chicago gun violence

by Tanesha Peeples
16-year-old honor student's life stolen by Chicago gun violence urban prep academy
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This past Sunday, I was in my kitchen preparing dinner when I received a hysterical call from my aunt. “Andre’s been shot. They said he’s not moving. We’re in Florida. Can you get to the hospital?” she whimpered on the other end. I’d just come in from handing out free laptops and backpacks to youth returning to Chicago Public Schools, so the turn of events didn’t make sense–how could the day have gone left like this?

I immediately hopped in my car and rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. While on the expressway, my aunt called again and tearfully said, “He’s gone.”

Although – and tragically – this happens every day, I couldn’t believe it. Another one of my family members’ lives was stolen by Chicago gun violence. I was hurt and outraged.

He Was an Honor Roll Student Who Skipped the Family Vacation to Work

Andre’ Lamont Smith, Jr. was an honor student at Urban Prep Academies. He was excited to be entering into his junior year of high school and even more excited about his new job at Fairplay Foods. 

Because the annual family vacation to Florida coincided with his work schedule, Andre’ decided to stay home and work. On his off day, he was playing basketball in the Altgeld Gardens and Phillip Murray Homes when he was caught in a flurry of gunfire between two cars. Andre’ was shot once in the chest and another time in the back while trying to run home. He was pronounced dead at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital. 

Andre’s mother, Candace Washington, had to learn of his passing while over 1,000 miles away from her baby. She said she planned to file for emergency housing relief in an attempt to shield her children from the rampant violence in the Chicago Housing Authority development when she got home.

This Devastation In Chicago Is All Too Common

When I was googling media links about Andre’, multiple articles for shooting deaths of Urban Prep students surfaced in the results. 

In 2017, the charter school network serving mostly Black boys on the south and west sides of Chicago had suffered eight losses. That number has since increased with Andre’ being the latest victim.

We also learned that a 17-year-old boy was shot in the leg in Altgeld Gardens just 30 minutes before Andre’. But because this is a frequent occurrence in the low-income housing structure that sits on a desolate island of neglect and despair at the southeastern edge of the city, it wasn’t reported by the media.

While at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office to identify Andre’s body, we were joined by a mother whose 19-year-old daughter was killed in a mass shooting hours before my cousin. And on Wednesday evening while sitting around my aunt’s kitchen table discussing Andre’s funeral arrangements, my sister received a text message alerting her of the shooting of four teens a block away from her house.  

In January of this year, CBS Chicago reported that 276 kids 16 and younger had been shot since 2021 and predominantly in Black and Brown neighborhoods. While the city and Chicago Police Department claim shootings and homicides are down from previous years, activists and people in communities most plagued by gun violence are skeptical.

Our Communities Have to be Held Accountable for the Violence, Too

Chicago has a serious accountability issue.  Politicians point the finger at municipal judges and police, CPD points the finger at the Cook County State’s Attorney Office and the affected communities point the finger at all of them. But we play a role in this, too.

It seems that we’ve become disturbingly desensitized to gun violence committed against youth (and people in general) in our neighborhoods. It is absolutely unacceptable that dozens of people are shot in Chicago almost every weekend and we proceed with life like this is “normal”.

We’re publicly and collectively outraged by acts of police brutality and hate crimes, demonstrating our frustration through protests demanding justice and change. But that level of energy and urgency isn’t widely applied to crimes committed to us, by us.

We’re not talking preventative and proactive strategy consistently. We’re not “snitching”. And we’re not acting in mass or in unison.

And we fight to keep the names of those killed by police and white supremacists alive but the names of those taken in our communities fade away with the next media headline.

No parent should have to suffer the violent loss of a child. No community should have to live in fear or numb to death and trauma. And no one has the right to point the finger of blame when we’re all responsible for the quality of life of our youth and communities.

Andre’ Lamont Smith, Jr. Say his name, too.

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