CHICAGO — The city’s shooters did not quit working this Labor Day weekend, killing at least 13 and wounding 65, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Chicago had already surpassed 2015’s total number of homicides before the holiday weekend, according to police department data, and with four months left to go, questions are mounting about what exactly happened this summer that has resulted in so much bloodshed.
For Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, it is repeat offenders who are responsible for much of the city’s violence. They’re also often the victims: in one August weekend, 40 shooting victims had 672 previous arrests among them, Johnson said.
Nykeah Aldridge’s killers are just two more repeat offenders who shouldn’t have been on the streets, according to Johnson. Derren and Darwin Sorrells, charged with murder for shooting and killing Aldridge, both have lengthy rap sheets that include gun charges, something Johnson said should have kept them behind bars. But a closer look at their case files reveals the complexities of their charges.
And Johnson’s stance, made apparent through department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, that the pair were “let out early” from prison for their previous crimes is somewhat of a misunderstanding of how sentencing guidelines, time already served and good behavior time while being locked up all work thanks to the laws on the books.
Darwin’s attempted murder charge stems from a September 2007 incident in which a 17-year-old named Diondre Harris was shot in the buttocks. It is unclear who fired the shot (Darwin or another man, Kevin Burnett) but what is clear is that Darwin was never convicted for attempted murder, just two counts of aggravated battery—and not even with a firearm. No gun charge. No attempted murder.
Documents in the case file state that Harris never knew who shot him because he was running away. Still, as Johnson might say, the fact that Darwin was involved in a shooting makes him one of the people police would prefer not to have on the streets.
Darwin continued his violent ways while waiting in Cook County Jail for his trial to be completed. As a result of a running feud over commissary money, Darwin knocked unconscious a man who had been handing over cash to him. The inmate Darwin knocked out had asked to use a bar of soap. No charges were filed.
Eventually Darwin was sentenced to 7½ years for the Harris shooting. With time already served at county, his sentence was reduced significantly. And with good time served—between four and seven days taken off each month—that six years became roughly 5½ years.
So, not let out early. Let out legally.
Newly released in 2011, Darwin got his first gun charge. Police found him in the area of East 59th Street and South King Drive after responding to a shots-fired call there. Darwin was pocketing a .38 revolver with three live and three spent rounds in the chamber when police arrived. He was sentenced to five years in prison, which becomes three years because of the two years of probation he received. With credit for 69 days served in the county jail, Darwin likely had good time credit of 4½ days each month, according to Illinois law, meaning he was sentenced—officially—to a little more than a year in jail.
That’s why Darwin was back on the streets in November 2013, fleeing from police in a stolen car with three live .380 rounds in his pocket, a firearms charge.
This is where Johnson and Guglielmi may have a point. With only 462 days of credit for his time in the county jail, it appears that at the very least Darwin should still be locked up for the 2013 gun case. However, their beef might lie not with judges or prosecutors but with the parole board, which hears arguments by inmates to be released on parole after serving a certain percentage of their sentence, according to Reuters.
Representatives from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the public defender’s office, which handled Darwin’s case, could not be reached for an explanation of Darwin’s early release.
Guglielmi, the Chicago police spokesperson, said the Sorrells brothers’ apparent early release was a “question for judges and the criminal justice system,” adding, “but we would like to know as well” why they were out on the streets.
Derren, who is likely the alleged shooter based on Guglielmi’s description of Darwin as a “co-conspirator,” was out on parole for stealing a car and carrying a handgun in 2012 when he shot Aldridge two weeks ago. He did a little more than two years in prison, which roughly works out considering his credit for 48 days served at county and credit for good time served.
Again, here is where the blame is perhaps best placed on the parole board and, to a larger extent, Illinois law.
Which is why Democratic Illinois state Sen. Kwame Raoul has proposed a new law that would up sentencing guidelines for those with two or more firearms convictions—meaning only Derren would apply under the proposed law.
The specifics of the law have yet to be written, Raoul told The Daily Beast last week, but one proposal would have judges sentencing repeat felons with new gun charges every seven to 14 years. The range right now is three to 14, Raoul said.
“Some people have called it truth in sentencing, which it is not, or establishing mandatory minimums, which it is not either,” Raoul said. “One of the things we’re doing with this is allowing for a window of opportunity for judges to deviate from this in extenuating circumstances.”
What Raoul’s law does not address are things like good time credit, parole boards, and the massive quantities of time inmates are serving at the Cook County Jail while waiting for their trial to be completed—a product of an overworked criminal justice system in the country’s most murderous city.
“There’s just not a criminal justice system in the world that’s perfect,” the senator said.
While the Aldrige killing has brought renewed focus to Chicago’s violence in general and this year’s record-setting body count in particular, activists in the city have been relatively quiet on Johnson’s calls for tougher handling of repeat offenders.
Jessica Disu, speaking on behalf of the Chicago International Youth Peace Movement, was the only activist of many who The Daily Beast reached out to who addressed repeat offenders.
“We don’t think that harsher sentences are the answer,” she said. “We completely disagree with that.”
If the Sorrells brothers had still be in prison for their crimes, Aldridge may have been killed by someone else, according to Disu.
“Locking these young men up will not repair the harm, it will not bring her back to life,” she said.
Disu is among a burgeoning movement in Chicago that proposes the complete abolition of the police.
While the alt-weekly Chicago Reader recently gave front-page treatment to the movement in a lengthy story examining the idea of a utopian Second City without a 12,000 man police force, most news outlets have chosen to focus on this year’s uptick in shootings and gun homicides.
“Why is it that the media wants to make a story of that right now?” Disu said. “It’s because violence sells.”
Raoul, using a favorite idiom of his predecessor in Illinois’ 13th District, Barack Obama, quickly dismissed the abolition movement as ignorant of the violence on Chicago’s streets.
“Let me be clear, I don’t think calls for the abolition of police are practical at all,” he said. “Certainly I share the sentiment of a lot of these activists that we have been too tolerant of abuses from law enforcement—that’s unquestionable. But clearly the murders we face on a day to day basis as well as other infractions mandate that we have law enforcement. Any sort of utopia that believes that we would just have a citizens’ self enforcement is unrealistic.”
Harsher sentences for gun crimes, more restrictive gun laws, tougher parole boards, more jobs, better schools, more police, less police—all have been proposed in one form or another to triage Chicago’s blood-soaked streets.
But the most effective tool may not be any of those. Instead, winter may finally be the thing that stanches the bleeding.