News Local/State

11 Offenders In Initiative’s Second ‘Call-In’ To End Gun Violence

Panelists for Thursday's Call-In at the Illinois Terminal Building in Champaign.

Panelists for Thursday's Call-In at the Illinois Terminal Building in Champaign (L to R: Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen, Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz, County Sheriff Dan Walsh, Champaign Community Relations Manager Tracy Parsons, and Rev. Rickey Parks of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

Community and law enforcement leaders in Champaign-Urbana hope they’ve successfully appealed to eleven more young people to turn their lives around.  The CU Fresh Start Program held its second quarterly ‘Call-In’ Thursday night. Those on parole or probation with a history tied to guns or violent crime came face to face with family members of shooting victims, and warned them what could happen if they don’t make a change.

Rev. Rickey Parks of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church says the message resonated with some of them.

“You could feel there was a change," he said. "A matter of fact, I noticed during a couple speakers, while they were speaking, there were some men that had tears in their eyes. So we could see there was a change. It was heartfelt, that they thought enough of us to say thank you.”

The walls of a room at Champaign's Illinois Terminal Building were lined with correctional center photos of those from the area serving sentences for gun-related crimes.

"If I gave them a choice to trade places with you, they would absolutely go for it," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Hansen when addressing the young men, who range in age from 18 to their late 20's.

Community leader Seon Willams told the group they’ve got to see themselves as special, and not built to be locked up for 80 years. 

"Many of you think you’re tough, and (carrying firearms) makes you a tougher person," he said. "You’ve taken away someone’s loved one with a blink of an eye. You’ve created a domino chain reaction."

Champaign Community Relations Manager Tracy Parsons says for those who choose to stay with CU Fresh Start, Community Liason Donte Lotts identifies challenges tied to each of them.

“Most of these have not succeeded at anything in their life," he said. "And so we are trying to instill in them the belief that they can make different decisions. They can leave their cliques and their groups. They can make better decisions, and they have to.”

Six of the nine who were part of the first "Call-In" last fall have stuck with it, and through community resources, are either working or have gone back to school.

Police in Champaign-Urbana say there were 112 shooting incidents in 2016, and 13 so far this year.