The fatal shooting of 8-year-old Melissa Ortega in Little Village is putting a spotlight on the city’s troubling gun violence.
Ortega was crossing the street with her mother when police say she was shot by 16-year-old Emilio Corripio. Prosecutors say the teenager was shooting at rival gang members. Xavier Guzman, 27, the alleged getaway driver, was also arrested. Both Guzman and Corripio are facing first-degree murder charges and are being held without bond.
In a statement, Ortega’s mother, Araceli Leaños said, “I forgive you. You were a victim too. As a 16-year-old, the community failed you just like it failed my precious baby. Although I do hope that in the many years you spend in prison, you get time to reflect on your actions because you took away the most valuable thing I had in my life.”
Despite the swift arrest, some community groups say their calls for more resources to address violence have gone unheard.
Baltazar Enriquez, president of the community-based organization Little Village Community Council, says he believes justice in this case cannot be had, but efforts can be made to stop it from happening again. He believes a starting point would be adding mental health resources to the community.
“We’ve been asking for years now that a mental health clinic be put here in Little Village. The community is traumatized. We need a mental health clinic to help them deal with this trauma,” he said. “So you have generations of trauma and the only way they find a way to resolve their issues is by getting even or going out there and commit cathartic crimes where they enjoy killing each other now … therefore we’re asking that our politicians, especially Chuy Garcia, comes and help us open a mental health clinic.”
Ana Solano, an organizer for the community organization Unete La Villita, attributes the pervasive gang-related violence in Little Village to the relative poverty of its residents.
“I am aware that there are gangs in our neighborhood, but I think that it’s a deeper issue than that. I think we have a poverty problem and it’s not due to some moral failing of our own, but systemically, we’re getting under-resourced, they’re closing our mental health clinics,” Solano said.
Solano points to the police budget to illustrate how she believes funds could be better allocated to address violence in Little Village.
“Right now, their budget is that $1.89 billion … that could give us 1,250 anti-violence advocates, 400 CPS social workers, 300 CPS school psychologists and 10 mental health clinics,” she said. “So I’m not exactly sure what the police should do, but I just know that not all of us feel safer with a stronger police presence and I would call for allocating those funds towards needed resources.”
Chicago police arrested the suspects days after the shooting, but Enriquez believes the suspects’ apprehension was the result of community input more than effort by the police.
“The community solved this crime,” Enriquez said. “I mean, the police department played a role, but the community is one that spoke out and said ‘no, this is what happened and here’s the video,’ so the community solved the problem. So we know how to police ourselves.”
Enriquez also apportions blame for Corripio’s crime on the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, since Corripio committed the murder while he was on intensive juvenile probation after pleading guilty to two carjackings.
“Kim Foxx has failed the county. She’s learned to let go criminals when they commit a heinous crime. She’s learned to put them on monitoring. So I think heinous crimes should stay in jail,” he said. “There has to be both responsibilities from the government and also from the community, but here the government has totally failed the community because they do not send resources and whenever there’s a crime that is being done to us, we stay quiet because we don’t trust the police department, we don’t trust the government because they have disenfranchised us from participating in the system.”
Enriquez says his organization is working on addressing the mental health needs he sees in the community on its own.
“We’re going to open a mental health clinic here in Little Village where you don’t need to have insurance. Your legal status doesn’t matter. You can come in and say, 'Hey, I have a problem,' and get the treatment that you need."