• U.S.

There Are No Children Here

5 minute read
Julie Grace/Chicago

Deborah Dean rubs her arms for warmth and shakes her head. The gunshots still echo; the memory of panicked footsteps raises the hair on her arms. “Deborah, call an ambulance!” her nephew had cried. And then she saw her husband standing over the body of her daughter Shavon, 14. “My 12-year-old had to call the ambulance. I just collapsed.” The family had been in the middle of an evening barbecue at their home in the Roseland section of Chicago when gunfire from what was believed to be a gang-initiation rite sent the fatal bullet into Shavon. “There’s no word to say how I feel,” says Dean. “Whatever I say, it’s not going to bring my daughter back.”

Deborah Dean knew her daughter’s alleged killer well. Garbage cans decorated with gang-designed graffiti separate her backyard from the three-bedroom bungalow where 11-year-old Robert Sandifer grew up with his grandmother, 10 aunts and uncles and at least 20 other children. “I used to carry him as a young boy to church,” says Dean. “He sang in the choir with my daughter. He was a baby, just like my daughter was a baby.”

Few others in the crime-ridden, gang-infested Roseland community would have called Robert (“Yummy”) Sandifer a baby. The 4-ft., 8-in., 68-lb. runt of a child, whose nickname came from his love of cookies and junk food, ran with a gang called the Black Disciples. Pedaling through the streets on his seatless black bike, in high-price tennis shoes and big, baggy clothes, Sandifer — coiffed in what neighbors described as his “nappy” hairstyle — intimidated the neighborhood with his use of knives, fire and guns. Often accompanied by four other youths just as small, he would steal, sell drugs, set fires. He had been barred from local stores because of his thievery. The manager of the local Gallery corner market says, “He had a 11-year-old body, but he was 29 or 30 in the head. He was a slick con artist. They should have hung him in the middle of the street.”

But Yummy Sandifer was found under a South Side train viaduct last Thursday, shot to death “execution style.” He had two .22-cal. bullet wounds in the back of his head. Gang members had hidden Sandifer in various locations for three days, then, fearing the boy would crumble under police pressure, told him they were driving him out of town. Instead they killed him under the viaduct. “He never knew what hit him,” said police spokesman William Davis. On Friday Chicago police charged two brothers, ages 14 and 16, with Sandifer’s death. Police say the 14-year-old confessed to involvement in the shooting and 16-year-old Cragg Hardaway admitted having been at the crime scene. Police suspect involvement by other gang members and are continuing their investigation. Said Chicago police superintendent Matt L. Rodriguez: “Here is a perfect example of someone doing the bidding of gangs and becoming a victim himself.”

Sandifer lived his short life both terrorizing and terrorized. Since 1993, he was prosecuted at least eight times on felonies, including drug possession and armed robbery. He was convicted twice and given probation, the state’s stiffest penalty for a child his age. But he first appeared in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ (DCFS) records in 1985 at the age of 22 months, for treatment of scratches on his neck and bruises on his arms and torso. On the afternoon of Jan. 19, 1986, police found him home alone with two brothers, then ages five and three. All had been abused. Just shy of his third birthday, Sandifer had scars on his face, numerous old, cordlike marks on his abdomen and burns on his neck and buttocks. At that time, his mother was under DCFS supervision because of burns her 16-month-old daughter had suffered around the genitals, buttocks and thighs. Yummy was moved into his grandmother’s home but eventually spent most of his time with gang members down the street. “This young kid fell through the cracks,” says Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. “He has been to the ((child)) abuse court. He’s been in delinquency court. This has been going on for years.”

In Roseland no one expects the gang violence to end. “Summer ain’t up yet,” says a man named Darryl, 27. “It’s going to get worse than this.” Just before Shavon Dean was killed, there had been night after night of AK-47 sprayings. The neighborhood is quiet now, Darryl explains, only because of the police and media attention. Still, the community is in shock and in mourning over the 11-year-old killer and his 14-year-old victim. “He was the baddest of bad,” says Jeffrey Rowry, a local resident, “and she was the sweetest of sweet.” In silent protest against the gangs, yellow ribbons have been tied around the trees on Shavon’s block; baby-blue ribbons, alluding to Sandifer’s age, decorate the home where he lived. Bay Sandifer, Yummy’s aunt, walked over and hugged Shavon’s mother. “We’re all going to stick together,” she said. “We’re scared they’re still out here. They ain’t doing nothing but killing our kids.”

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