Gun violence kills 160 as holiday weekend exposes tale of 'two Americas'

Joanna Walters in New York and agencies
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA</span>
Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

A six-year-old in Philadelphia, a seven-year-old in Chicago, an eight-year-old in Atlanta, a 15-year-old in New York, all shot. Community cries of “enough is enough”.

Neighborhoods in some of the largest US cities erupted in gun violence over the Fourth of July weekend, killing an estimated 160 people and leaving more than 500 wounded from Friday night to Sunday.

Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, declared a state of emergency on Monday after 31 people were shot and five killed over the weekend in Atlanta. He authorized 1,000 national guard Troops to “protect state property and patrol our streets”.

Related: 'There are two pandemics': Chicago's gun violence persists amid lockdown

But Chicago saw the worst violence in one of the bloodiest holiday weekends in recent memory, ending with 17 people fatally shot including a seven-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy and 63 more wounded, an increase of five shootings on the high figures that had marred the holiday weekend the previous year.

Chicago police investigate the scene where a seven-year-old girl was fatally shot in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago on Friday.
Chicago police investigate the scene where a seven-year-old girl was fatally shot in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago on Friday. Photograph: Tyler LaRiviere/AP

Despite an effort that included an additional 1,200 officers on the streets and pleas from the city’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, for residents not to reverse limited progress that had been made against the epidemic of gun violence in the city, she ended up lamenting the children whose “hopes and dreams were ended by the barrel of a gun”.

The city’s south and west sides have seen worse weekends this year, however, and a one-year-old and a three-year-old were killed during recent shootings. The rising violence prompted Donald Trump to write to Lightfoot and the Illinois governor, JB Priztker, both Democrats, accusing them of receiving more than $1bn in special federal funding for anti-crime measures and coronavirus relief that was “not being turned into results”.

“Your lack of leadership … continues to fail the people you have sworn to protect,” the letter said.

Lightfoot dismissed Trump’s letter as “all talk, little action”.

Secoriea Turner, eight, was killed near a Wendy&#x002019;s in Atlanta.
Secoriea Turner, eight, was killed near a Wendy’s in Atlanta. Photograph: Atlanta Police Department Handout/EPA

The shooting death of an eight-year-old girl, Secoriea Turner, in Atlanta, Georgia, prompted the mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, to call for justice while noting the shadow such street violence casts over the huge and largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police brutality.

“Enough is enough,” Bottoms said. “If you want people to take us seriously and you don’t want us to lose this movement, we can’t lose each other.”

The shooting happened near the Wendy’s restaurant where a Black man, Rayshard Brooks, was killed by a white police officer on June 12.

“She was only eight years old,” Charmaine Turner said of her daughter Secoriea. “Right now, she would have been on TikTok, dancing on her phone.”

Atlanta police said two other people were killed and more than 20 injured in gunfire during the holiday weekend.

In New York, a series of shootings on Saturday and Sunday claimed at least nine lives and wounded 41 others in a rise in incidents in some neighborhoods. A 15-year-old boy was wounded in the Bronx.

And in Philadelphia, a six-year-old boy died of a gunshot wound amid five fatal shootings in a span of about five hours on Sunday afternoon, police said.

The Trace, a non-profit news website covering gun violence in the US, which tallied the weekend toll of shootings in the US, reported that preliminary research from the University of California, Davis, has found a potential link between the rise in violence and a surge in gun-buying during the coronavirus pandemic, of more than 2.1 million more guns than usual between March and May.

Chicago is, woefully, a tale of two cities and across the country it’s a tale of two Americas

Rev Gregory Livingston

The Rev Gregory Livingston, a pastor and civil rights leader who moved to New York last summer after many years running an anti-violence community organization in his native Chicago, spoke of the midwest city “going through absolute madness”.

But he warned that nationwide systemic racism that is not being addressed and the “violent history” of America that has not been reckoned with were dividing people and causing some communities to break down.

“Chicago is, woefully, a tale of two cities and across the country it’s a tale of two Americas. Chicago is a very segregated city and that legacy is part of what’s fueling this horrific violence,” Livingston told the Guardian on Monday afternoon.

He condemned “corruption and racism” and said the coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout had exacerbated inequality. The pandemic has been disproportionately brutal on Black Americans already suffering economic and healthcare deprivations.

Livingston campaigned hard to get rid of the previous Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Lightfoot has been in the position since May 2019 and has just appointed a new police chief.

The Rev Gregory Livingston
The Rev Gregory Livingston: ‘Chicago is a very segregated city and that legacy is part of what’s fueling this horrific violence.’ Photograph: Joshua Lott/The Guardian

She agreed with Livingston’s point that a long history of segregation in Chicago and under-investment were “at the root” of the “explosion” of violence.

“You have to give a sense of hope … you have to reach out to those young men on the corners who are the shooters, but it can’t just be on the police and the city government, it’s all hands on deck,” Lightfoot said. She said of Trump: “We are leading. He needs to take our lead and follow it.”

Livingston called on Lightfoot to tackle racism and policing problems “head on”.

“There is an individual responsibility [among those shooting], but there are also conditions that create a climate of violence,” he said.

He accused the New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, of being “scared” of confronting racism in the New York police department.

“There is no courage in City Hall,” he said.

And he warned mayors across the US that Chicago was the “control” for what would happen elsewhere this summer if inequality and the demands of protesters coast to coast since George Floyd, an African American, was killed in Minneapolis by a white police officer did not spur change.

The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, declared herself dismayed that she was not asked about the weekend shootings at her briefing on Monday, despite citing “a doubling of shootings in New York City for the third straight week”.

Journalists at the briefing responded that she had ended the 22-minute briefing and departed while many were still waiting, hands raised, to ask questions.