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EAST ST. LOUIS — As he reflects on the death of his son and how no one has been arrested in the case, Roosevelt Davis Sr. says two words come to his mind: "sad" and "hurtful."

His son, Roosevelt Davis Jr., 21, was shot to death in April 2018 outside a convenience store near Cahokia.

Later that year, Davis Jr.'s best friend, Sanchez Rhodes, was fatally shot in East St. Louis. Davis Jr. and Rhodes were both stars on the East St. Louis High School track team.

Dorothy Young, Davis Jr.'s mother, said she remembers how her son always had a smile but somberly noted that there's been "no justice" in his death. One arrest has been made in connection with Rhodes' death, however, and Davis Sr. said police report the shooting deaths are linked.

Davis Sr. and Young each attended a Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice rally Saturday at the City of Champions welcome sign at Ninth Street and St. Clair Avenue in East St. Louis.

Several community groups banded together to host the event.

There have been 15 homicides in East St. Louis this year and charges have been filed in five of the cases, according to the Illinois State Police, which has been working with the East St. Louis Police Department. In December, Illinois State Police launched a new team called the Public Safety Enforcement Group to help solve violent crimes in East St. Louis. This effort includes work by local, state and federal officers.

Last year, there were 36 homicides in the city. A Belleville News-Democrat investigation found that 75% of the 453 homicides from 2000 to 2018 in East St. Louis remained unsolved as of 2019.

Rally organizers

Gloria Hicks, one of the event organizers, is with Community Lifeline in East St. Louis and is the East St. Louis chapter lead for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

"East St. Louis has been known as the place where people get murdered all the time," said Hicks, whose son, Jason is a detective with the East St. Louis Police Department and attended Saturday's rally. . "Our thought is it's not as bad as people think. Right now we are working to try to change the image that is in East St. Louis.

"Today is about crime survivors. We have families speaking about their loved ones. Today is about them. Families are speaking on how they're hurt."

Pastor Larita Rice-Barnes of Empowerment of Grace Church in East St. Louis is the executive director of the Metro East Organizing Committee, which was one of groups that participated in Saturday's rally.

"We've been working on violence reduction in the community for about the past three years," Rice-Barnes said.

Rice-Barnes said her group's work includes a gun violence town hall conducted in October 2019 and food distribution.

Also, the group goes on "peace walks" in area "hot spots" to help residents.

"If you are engaging the residents here, they will respond," she said.

Seeking justice

Skyla Pawnell of East St. Louis misses "the charm" of her son, Aaron Prayer.

Prayer was 21-years-old when he was fatally shot on June 4, 2018 on Wimmer Place in East St. Louis. No arrests have been made in this case.

"He was the life of the party," Pawnell said. "He kept everybody up on their feet."

Saturday's event was held three years and one day after Prayer was killed.

Pawnell took the chance to speak to the crowd at the rally to get out her message.

"Until we stand as a community and get rid of the no-snitch rule, nothing's going to change," she said. "Don't wait until it's your son or daughter and decide you want justice. The time is now. Stop making families cry. Stop making mothers cry.

"I encourage each and everyone of us who hasn't gotten justice to keep fighting," Pawnell said. "Don't give up. There's closure for us at the end of the storm as well. You're not in the fight alone. I stand with you side by side. This is our fight."

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This article originally ran on pantagraph.com.

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