By Michelle Martin Catholic News Service
CHICAGO (CNS) — The execution-style murder of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was not what God wanted to happen, Father Michael Pfleger said at Tyshawn’s funeral Nov. 10.
“This is the face of the reality of evil,” Father Pfleger said. “This is evil right in our face.”
The funeral service was held at St. Sabina Church, about a mile from where Tyshawn was lured into an alley and shot in the head and the back the afternoon of Nov. 2.
Father Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina, has been a high-profile leader in Chicago’s Auburn-Gresham neighborhood surrounding the church and an outspoken advocate against gun violence for years. He addressed Tyshawn’s mother, Karla Lee, and his father, Pierre Stokes, in his sermon.
“This morning we meet at the uncomfortable intersection of pain and anger,” he said, “the intersection we have seen far too often.”
It would be wrong to say Tyshawn, an active child who loved school, video games and basketball, was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Father Pfleger said.
“Tyshawn was on his way to play basketball in the park near his grandmother’s house,” the priest said. “Our children have the right to walk down our streets. Our children have the right to play in the park. Our children have the right to sit on their porches. Our children have the right to be safe wherever they are in the city of Chicago. The murderer, the executioner, the assassin, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Father Pfleger acknowledged that he is no fan of the prison system, but called on anyone who knows who shot Tyshawn to speak up because anyone who would target a child should be locked up, he said.
The code of silence — which Father Pfleger said exists not only on the streets, but also among law enforcement, in the church and among politicians — cannot lead people to protect Tyshawn’s killer out of fear, he said. “Something has to rise up in us and say ‘Enough! I will not be quiet!'” he said.
St. Sabina donated $5,000 to a reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer; that fund has reached $55,000.
Father Pfleger went on to indict a society and a system that allows not only crime, but poverty and despair and unemployment, to flourish in some communities, calling out politicians, police, and the entertainment and gun industries, among others. He also asked everyone in the congregation to take a look at themselves.
“Where did we fail, all of us?” he said. “Where did we fail to create homes, churches, neighborhoods, communities that could give our children a chance?”
In the end, though, Father Pfleger said, believers know that Tyshawn now is living his eternal life. He spoke of Tyshawn stepping onto a heavenly basketball court and meeting many of those who have gone before, recalling the names of many young people who have been killed by gun violence in Chicago and around the country, including Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Hadiya Pendleton and then connected them to martyrs of the civil rights movement from decades past, citing Emmett Till and the four girls killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.
Dozens of members of Tyshawn’s extended family and friends and classmates from Joplin Elementary School filled the front pew. The congregation included congressmen and aldermen and actor Nick Cannon as well as community members and neighbors, and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush delivered the closing prayer.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan attended the visitation before the service, and celebrities including the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah and filmmaker Spike Lee sent letters of condolence. Among the messages from religious leaders was a letter from Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, Father Pfleger said.
Chicago police have suggested that he was targeted in retaliation for what his killer believed were the gang activities of his father.
His father has denied being in a gang and has told reporters he does not believe that retaliation was the motive.
As of Nov. 11, there had been 428 murders reported in Chicago in 2015. Eight of them occurred between Tyshawn’s death and his funeral.
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Martin is a staff writer at the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.