Pope Francis condemns July 4 killings in US, calls for end to violence

Pope Francis of the Catholic church in Vatican has condemned the Chicago killings as being “senseless”, saying all forms of violence should end while sending his spiritual closeness to all the families of the deceased and injured in the July 4 massacre by a lone gunman sniper from a rooftop who killed six persons besides wounding 30 others.

The incident took place in the midst of the Independence Day parade in a Chicago suburb, Highland Park. The suburb is still in a state of shock as innocent people and some children died, while a policeman got critically injured.

Pope Francis sent a telegram to Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, conveying his spiritual closeness to all those affected by the mass shooting. He expressed shock and sadness over the mass shooting that left six dead on Monday.

In his message, Pope Francis condemned the “senseless shooting” and appealed for rejection of all forms of violence.

Robert E. Crimo III, a 22-year-old local, was apprehended late on Monday in connection with the shooting. Crimo had been identified earlier in the day as a person of interest in the mass shooting.

The Pope’s telegram said he joined “the entire community in praying that Almighty God will grant eternal rest to the dead and healing and consolation to the injured and bereaved”.

“With unwavering faith that the grace of God is able to convert even the hardest of hearts, making it possible to depart from evil and do good,” the message read.

Pope Francis prayed that every member of society will reject violence in all of its forms and respect life in all of its stages.

He concluded by sending his apostolic blessing “as a pledge of strength and peace in the Lord”.

Highland Park is an affluent suburb about 25 miles north of Chicago along Lake Michigan.

In a statement, Cardinal Cupich of Chicago said he is praying for the victims and the first responders. He also spoke out strongly against the scourge of gun violence.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering spoke to NBC News about the “unbelievable sadness” and “unbelievable shock” that the community of 30,000 was encountering.

“This tragedy should have never arrived at our doorsteps. As a small town, everybody knows somebody who was affected by this directly and, of course, we are all still reeling,” she said.

Just a day back, the streets were decked out in red, white and blue as families watched the annual parade. Children sat on curbs, wagons and strollers, waving American flags as parents and grandparents relaxed in their folding chairs, media reports said.

As the parade began rolling through the downtown, the police said a gunman climbed on to the roof of a building using a ladder in an alley and then, without notice, opened fire with an assault rifle at the crowd below.

On Monday evening, the police had announced that they had a suspect, 22-year-old Robert E. Crimo III, in custody after he surrendered to the authorities. The police said they did not yet know what was the motive for the shooting.

A 72-year-old retired four-star general, who wished not to be named, said people were scared to death, as they didn’t know what was going on.

“I had my granddaughter up against my chest and she told my daughter later that ‘grandpa’s heart was pounding’,” said the retired officer who rescued many from the spot.

Gun violence is still agitating the minds of Americans, less than two months after a gunman killed 19 school children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, just 10 days after a man shot 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

Rotering said she knew the suspect when he was a little boy and a cub scout, when she was a cub scout leader.

“What happened? How did somebody become this angry, this hateful,” she asked.

Social media and other online posts written by accounts that appeared to be associated with either Crimo or his rapper alias ‘Awake the Rapper’ often depicted violent images or messages.

One music video posted on YouTube under ‘Awake the Rapper’ showed drawings of a stick figure holding a rifle in front of another figure spread on the ground.

Rotering said on Tuesday that she did not know where the gun the gunman used came from, but added that it was legally obtained.

“Our nation needs to have a conversation about these weekly events involving murder of dozens of people with legally obtained guns,” she was quoted by the WTTW News.

The attack is going to upend the debate on gun control even though a bipartisan legislation of the Congress is now in place to restrict sale of guns to buyers and checking background of sellers and take away arms from those with mental health issues who are a danger to themselves and others in the society.

The debate on whether stricter measures can prevent mass shootings that happen so frequently in the United States is likely to flare and probably end up on the ballot for the November 8 elections to the 435-member House of Representatives.

Inflation and soaring gas prices could be pushed into the background, striking a blow to the gun lobby led by the National Rifle Association.

In response to the shootings in New York and Uvalde, the Congress last month passed its first major federal gun reform in three decades, providing federal funding to states that administer “red flag” laws intended to remove guns from people deemed dangerous.

The law, however, does not ban sale of assault-style rifles or high-capacity magazines but does take some steps on background checks by allowing access to information on significant crimes committed by juveniles.

Chicago, home to the infamous mafia boss Al Capone who used the machine gun as a powerful weapon to eliminate his peer group gangland bosses, has a history of violence with more than 600 homicides in 2022. The number of shootings and killings through the first half of the year are both down more than 10 per cent compared to each of the last two years, according to the police.

Data published last Friday by the Chicago Police Department showed that there have been 310 homicides and 1,255 shootings in the city through the end of June. Both those figures are below the pace set through the first six months of 2021 and 2020.

“The reduction in violence is due to the dedicated work of the men and women of the Chicago Police Department,” Police Superintendent David Brown said in a statement, adding, “Our brave officers, at great risk to themselves, continue working on behalf of the people of Chicago to make every neighbourhood safer.”

According to that data, shootings are down 17 per cent this year, and the number of shooting victims in 2022 is down by more than 300 (1,525 this year, 1,860 last year), WTTW reported.

In June alone, there were 67 homicides. That’s down 21 per cent compared to June 2021, according to the police.

The police this year have recovered 6,205 firearms, a 5 per cent increase over last year’s pace. Those weapons include more than 500 assault weapons and nearly 400 unserialised ghost guns.

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