'We need to do all we can': Booth couple reflect on Peoria gun violence
Derrick Booth and State Representative Jehan Gordon Booth (D-Peoria) understand firsthand the collective burden of grief and trauma borne by so many in Peoria impacted by gun violence.
The following is a transcript of a WCBU piece that aired during “All Things Peoria” on Thursday, Oct. 28.
Derrick Booth leads the Wraparound Center, a South Peoria-based one stop shop for social services. Jehan Gordon Booth is one of Peoria’s state representatives.
In 2014, the couple faced something no parent ever wants to experience. They lost their 22-year-old son, Derrick Booth Jr. in a shooting.
Jehan: “There's always talk about, ‘People need to come forward, people need to step up and provide witness.’ What people often forget is that these very people who you're asking to be a witness, they have to continue to live in those communities, with what support? With what protection? And so understanding that the protections and supports that you know, that you often times see in a movie, where people get moved to Omaha, and they get a new identity, and they get a whole new life set up for them. Well, that's not the reality.”
With 26 killings, city's homicide rate has passed the 2019 record of 25 murders in one year. The majority of the victims are under the age of 30. Many are young Black men.
Derrick Booth’s son was 22 when he was killed.
Derrick: “The victims and the perpetrators that we're seeing are getting younger and younger. And so that's really a serious concern. You know, how do we reach them at even younger ages, before they go down this road of violence? And teaching them conflict resolution skills, and how to dream about things bigger than the streets, and what the streets have to offer. So those are some immediate concerns that as a, as a community, as a school district, that are concerning, because we're seeing more and more of these aggressive behaviors … These offenders and these perpetrators being younger and younger.”
When Jehan attended the trial for the man accused of killing her stepson she noticed the witness list did not include Derrick Jr.’s friends.
Jehan: “The folks that were willing to come forward and be witnesses in that case, were all women. They all had children, in particular sons. And they all had been impacted by gun violence in their lives, every last one of them. And so when you think about the juxtaposition that many of these women were in, none of them being friends of DJ, right? They were all older. By 15, 16, 17 years. They were not in the same friend group. But they just had that common denominator of being mothers, having Black sons and having experienced trauma, and losing someone to gun violence.”
Thanks to witnesses who came forward, Derrick Booth Jr.’s killer was convicted and sentenced. Jehan says she knows this wasn't easy.
Jehan: “As a woman, single, head of household, who you are then asking to do something that, one, they've never done before, two, is something that the community that they live in is probably not going to uphold them as a hero for doing … That recognition, and that understanding of who we're actually asking to do these things, I think is incredibly important for informing policy as it relates to how you support people who you are asking to do probably what is going to be the most scariest thing that they've ever done in their life.”
Following the trial, Jehan successfully passed a state law and her stepson’s honor. Nicknamed “DJ’s Bill,” the law provides protection to key witnesses of violent crimes who may not have actually seen a crime take place. Previously, the state only provided protection to eyewitnesses of crimes.
Jehan and Derrick say city leaders should be more proactive in reaching out to the woman and communities where homicide rates are rising. They applauded Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria for his recent idea to host a summit for women directly impacted by violence.
As homicide rates rise, Derrick says he hopes to see more events like this.
Derrick: “Initiatives like that, we need to continue to pursue. Because it can't do any harm. I think you can only do good. And if you can just save one child in implementing an initiative like that … it's worth it. We want to save them all. We have hope that we can save them all. But in those type of initiatives, if you could just have one mom have an impactful conversation with a child or son, a grandson… The workshop, or summit is worth it. And I think it's just another creative way. Because you never know who's going to make a difference in communicating with someone. And a lot of times it could be the person, but other times it could be the timing. And no one wants to lose a child. Especially to gun violence. And if we can do things or have communications and conversations to prevent that. We need to do all we can.”
The Wraparound Center is a one stop shop for families in need of healthcare, legal aid, counseling, educational services and more. It's located inside Trewyn Middle School. Derrick welcomes all city residents regardless of whether they have children enrolled in Peoria Public Schools.
Find more information on the Wraparound Center online.