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Crime-weary Chicago sees progress, but some kids still caught in crossfire

Five-year-old Jaden Donald may not have superpowers, but he's done something remarkable by escaping becoming a grim statistic in Chicago's violent summer.

CHICAGO — It was the Fourth of July, and Jasmine Donald was on her way home from a party with her 5-year-old son, Jaden, in tow. They stopped at a park, and at first, she didn’t recognize the difference between the fireworks and gunshots.

Jaden was hit in the stomach in what police said was a dispute between rival gang factions. At the hospital, doctors said he was dying. But he made it — narrowly avoiding becoming a grim statistic in another violent summer in Chicago.

“It’s the worst feeling you can ever have to watch your child go through something and be in some much pain and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Jasmine Donald said. “It’s the worst feeling ever.”

In Chicago, it is a feeling all too common for mothers. The pace of gun violence has fallen from last year, when there were more than 500 killings. But the streets are still deadly. At least four people were killed and 22 wounded in shootings this weekend.

And Jaden, who likes whipped cream and strawberries on his pancakes and whose favorite superhero is Spider-Man, is one of four children younger than 7 shot in July alone.

Chicago's local community leaders describe some of the ways they're taking a stand, in an effort to save their city and their youth from violence and crime.

“These gangbangers are not very good shots, right?” Chicago police Supt. Garry McCarthy said from the city’s violence-plagued South Side. “And they hit the wrong people frequently.”

McCarthy points to progress: Murders are down 26 percent compared with the same period last year, to the lowest number since 1965. Shootings are down 24 percent. And McCarthy says the number of juveniles shot is down 40 percent.

Experts on crime say that Chicago’s homicides tend to follow a formula.

“A couple of guys plus some sort of disagreement plus a gun equals a dead body,” said Harold Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago and co-director of its Crime Lab, which works with governments to reduce violence.

Police seize more guns in Chicago than in New York and Los Angeles combined, but police say that the solution isn’t just fewer firearms — it’s more opportunities for young people.

That includes a program called One Summer Plus, which provides jobs and mentoring to juveniles from at-risk neighborhoods. The rate of violent-crime arrests fell by half for participants in last year’s program, according to the Crime Lab.

“It helps keep not only me off the street, but other people (who) might be doing something violence off the street and doing something positive,” said one participant, Zachary Robinson.

Which could help children like Jaden Donald spend less time in hospitals and more time dreaming of being Spider-Man. Because the surgery went through his intestines, he couldn’t eat at first.

“Every day we took small steps,” said one of his doctors, Chris Chapman. “And he’s done well since then. And now you see him and you think that he’s pretty much back to normal.”

The Rev. Dan Willis, the family’s pastor, said people in Chicago are “more hopeless than they’ve ever been before because it’s escalated so much,” referring to the violence.

“But yet in the middle of it — this is important for the world to know,” he said. “We refuse to let somebody who randomly shot 30 rounds into a park one night define this little boy’s destiny and future. We refuse to let that define this family’s legacy.”

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