Vigil held in response to fatal Fourth Ward shooting
JANESVILLE—A peace vigil held Sunday in response to a fatal shooting in the city's Fourth Ward neighborhood May 28 was initially conceived as a formal time of prayer and a call to stop violence in Janesville.
But the event at Fourth Ward Park modified itself into something less ceremonial, becoming a meeting of sorts between neighborhood leaders, police and members of a newly-formed black community outreach committee.
Local Christian minister Michael Bell organized the vigil. He said he had aimed to bring the community and Fourth Ward residents together after the fatal shooting of Eddie L. Jones, 28, of Markham, Illinois, which occurred outside a residence on South Franklin Street.
Jones's death was the first homicide in Janesville since 2014.
Jones died after he was shot in multiple times in the face and neck, police said. Barquis D. McKnight, 32, of Beloit, was arrested last week and is being accused of shooting and killing Jones. Witnesses reported seeing Jones and McKnight arguing during a gathering, according to police reports and court records.
About 20 people attended Sunday's vigil. Bell—a member of Janesville's newly-formed African American Liaison Advisory Committee—and others hoped to send a message to young members of the local black community, and to the community as a whole, that violence is not the answer.
“I know they (young people) have their own way, and they do what they want to do, but we have to be creative to reach them,” Bell said. “It's not just a problem in Janesville, it's a problem nationwide.
“If we make the impact (today), we definitely can start here and it'll just continue. Whatever ideas we come away with, it'll surely be moved on,” he said.
Fourth Ward resident Rreona Walker, 18, and her cousin, 17-year-old Chicago resident Tameirra Walker, were sitting at a park table when the vigil started. They watched with curiosity.
“We were just sitting here, and we thought we might stay,” Rreona Walker told The Gazette.
Rreona Walker said she learned about the shooting while watching the local news on TV. She said the incident surprised her.
“You get used to hearing of murders and shootings in Chicago, or Beloit even—but Janesville? No. You're not used to hearing about it here.” she said.
“I thought it was sad,” she said. “People don't deserve to die like that. The guy who got killed, he had kids ... and they're young. It makes you sad that people don't care about who they're shooting and the consequences of that.”
Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore was one of a handful of law enforcement members who attended the vigil. He said more than 20 local officers investigated Jones's killing, including one worked two days straight with almost no sleep.
More also said some officers handed out flyers in the neighborhood to let people who live nearby the scene of the shooting know the police had made an arrest.
He said the the hearts of law enforcement officers go out to both Jones's and McKnight's families.
“There were little kids there who saw some terrible horror that night," he said. "And our concerns go out to the suspect as well. Marquis Odom (McKnight) has got a mom and dad, brothers and sisters. I don't know all of his family, but they didn't ask for this. Our thoughts and concerns go out to them as well.”
The African American Liaison Advisory Committee took a lead role in Sunday's vigil in part because the shooting affected members of the black community.
Jason Davis, who leads the committee, said the advisory group meets once a month, and one of its main purposes is to keep lines of communication open between Janesville's black population and the police.
“We want people in the (black) community to look at police officers just like they would anybody else, and we want police officers to look at people in the community the same way. We want no barriers and no bias,” Davis said.
Davis said that since it formed about four months ago, members of the committee have spent time in Janesville schools talking to students about drugs, alcohol and criminal activity that can lead to violence.
“The things that happen surrounding a shooting like the one here a week ago all lead out of activity people can get into at an early age," he said. "We're basically trying to spray weed killer in the spring to keep the bad things from happening later on."
Davis said he felt Sunday's vigil and meeting of neighborhood leaders was the start of a larger network similar to the group's school outreaches.
“If you see things like this happen—people coming together to a park to talk and meet—people in the neighborhood are going to see it," he said. "They, too, can get invested in it. That's how you work to keep a community safer."