CHAMPAIGN – American Legion Post 559 in north Champaign was the scene of gun violence in early July. On Monday evening, members of the community gathered at the same Legion post to ask questions and look for solutions.
The July 2nd shooting killed 17-year-old Kieshaun Thatch, and wounded four others. It occurred at a funeral reception for another shooting victim, 32-year-old David Dalton, who was shot to death in Champaign on June 20.
About 35 people met to talk over the problems that led to the Legion Post deadly shooting. The meeting was organized by the Champaign County Community Coalition’s Community Violence Response Team.
Some of the discussion focused on trying to reach young people before they turn to violence.
Jobie Taylor works with young people as coordinator of the Youthbuild education and job training program sponsored by the Housing Authority of Champaign County and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. He spoke at the gathering about how it’s important that youth hear from adults that share their backgrounds and respect them.
“I let them be who they be,” said Taylor. “But I give ‘em some game. I pick ‘em up and tell them, like you know, things that they could have did different. Now you got ‘em thinking. You gotta get them back to thinking and that’s all I’m saying.”
The Champaign County Community Coalition holds these neighborhood safety meetings on a recurring basis in areas where violence has occurred. Janice Walker with the CU Trauma Resilience Initiative said turnout for this meeting — especially among men — was higher than usual.
Officials with Legion Post 559 were among those who attended the meeting. They say stopping violence at their facility was a special concern for them. Besides the July 2nd shooting, other fatal shootings have occurred at or near the post over the years. In 2018, 34-year-old Montrez Vonner was killed early on March 11, after leaving the Legion Hall, and three others were wounded. That same year on August 23, 48-year-old Darin Mitchell was shot to death at an outdoor gathering at the Legion post. Shoen Russell was later convicted and sentenced to 65 years in prison for the shooting.
Legion Post 559 Senior Vice-Commander George Love said a lack of cooperation from community members was preventing Champaign Police from finding and arresting the July 2nd shooters, and he hoped that would change. He said the post board and members are committed to working with police to make sure their facility is a safe place, especially for veterans.
“This is a veterans’ home,” said Love. “You raise your right hand to put your life on the line for this country, this is your home. And we want to be sure that when you come home, you have a safe haven to come to. That’s what we’re working on right now. It will be that way. On my watch, it will be that way.”
Jim is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him on Twitter @WILLJimMeadows