Editorial: Mayor’s response to ice cream vendor murder unacceptable

An ice cream vendor is shot and killed by three teens at 6:20 p.m., Sunday, July 15, while selling ice cream to a man and his 2-year-old daughter in the 700 block of Loomis Street on Rockford’s southwest side. The mayor’s response: the “community” is to blame.

As reported by Eloisa Oceguera in the Rockford Register Star, “No me maten (Don’t kill me),” begged 47-year-old Hispanic Chicago resident Isidro Duran, known as “Roadrunner” to his customers, of his assailants, moments before they put four bullets in his back and leg as he tried to escape.

Oceguera’s article continued: “[Alejandro] Andrade [the man buying ice cream from Duran when the assailants approached] said he thought the three youths had followed them all the way to his house. But he opened his door when he heard Duran’s cries for help.

“‘My daughter and I saw him bleeding from everywhere. He raised his hands and he told me, crying, ‘My God, please help me.’

“‘I’ve never seen anything like this. His face was the only place that was not covered in blood,’ Andrade said.”

Duran fled to a nearby apartment, where he collapsed before an ambulance arrived. He was pronounced dead at about 7:10 p.m. at Rockford Memorial Hospital. His signature straw hat was later found on the ground near the apartment.

As reported by Oceguera: “What Duran’s family finds especially disheartening is that a neighbor they spoke with described the alleged shooters walking away chatting and laughing as though nothing had happened. ‘These people are heartless,’ said Zulema Rodriguez, Andrade’s wife. ‘There’s no safety anymore.’”

Justin L. Dismuke and Michael C. Jennings, both 18, and Rafael E. Santos, 17, were arrested shortly after the shooting. They were charged with first-degree murder, and are in Winnebago County Jail on $1 million bond. Police have said Duran may have been killed for money.

The city’s ninth homicide of the year sparked an outcry from the Latino community, which turned out in force—from adults to children appearing as young as 4 or 5—at the July 23 and 30 Rockford City Council meetings. As quoted by television station WIFR, League of United Latin American Citizens member Mary Lou Castro said, “We’ve mentioned it before to the mayor that this side of the city, the southwest side, is a war zone.”

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey’s (I) response, reported by WIFR: “If they don’t have a family present, if they don’t have a community setting proper norms, you wind up with children walking around with guns, committing the kind of senseless crimes that we’ve got in our community. Is that something that just hiring more police officers solves? No, we’ve got to dig deep in a lot of social issues in our community.”

Try telling that to Duran’s family while his body was being transferred to Mexico for burial. Or try telling that to anyone living in the 700 block of Loomis Street and the surrounding area who now feel “there’s no safety anymore” and that they’re living in “a war zone.”

Long-term, the mayor is correct—changes need to be made in deep-rooted social issues, namely education and parenting skills. But how can a community even address these social issues if they don’t first feel safe in their neighborhoods? How can you have family present when they’re being murdered on the streets? How can you set “proper norms” when you’ve got kids running around in the streets carrying guns? How can you avoid senseless crime when kids turn to gang life because they feel surrounding themselves with an army of gang-bangers is their only chance at safety?

More police is the answer.

What did the mayor expect Duran to do when approached by his assailants? Ask them if they wanted to have a group hug to discuss “proper norms”? Would that have saved his life? Or would Duran have been safer if there had been a police car stationed on the block? We need more officers walking neighborhood beats again, so citizens know “Officer Joe” will be coming by.

As a city, we must put the horse before the cart. People need to feel safe in their communities, and it’s the city’s responsibility to ensure everyone’s safety and security, because we are all people. Only when we feel safe as a community can we begin to address social issues.

It’s hard to believe the mayor’s response would have been the same had a similar act of violence occurred in some other neighborhoods, say, his beloved downtown River District. Imagine one of the downtown vendors being gunned down. Would Morrissey still be talking about “proper norms”?

Fact is, southwest Rockford might as well be southwest Afghanistan to many Rockfordians—it’s out of sight and out of mind, and what happens there is foreign to them. I remember working at an east-side big-box store about five years ago and being told by many customers that they were told to never go west of Alpine because they might get shot. Many of them didn’t even know Rockford had a downtown. They thought downtown was the area they could see from the top of the hill at the intersection of State Street and Alpine Road—the area that extends west to Fairview. They might as well be living in Truman Show’s Seahaven.

If we do not learn as a city—east, west, north and south—from this violent tragedy and ensure all of our citizens’ safety and security, then we die as a community.

from the Aug 1-7, 2007, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!