Demonstrators march on Chicago gun violence after bloody 2020

Demonstrators marched through the frigid streets of Chicago Thursday in memory of victims of gun violence, which rose dramatically in the third-largest US city in 2020.

Police in the Windy City recorded 762 homicides in 2020, up 55 percent from 2019, according to a December 27 count. Shootings rose 53 percent, to 3,227 from 2,120 in the city of 2.7 million.

Up to 100 protesters, holding portraits of loved ones who had been shot, marched the snowy sidewalks waving flags in the city's colors, but marked with blood-stained bullet holes.

Nicole McGee, 30, carried a sign with pictures of her cousin Mekhi James, a one-year-old shot and killed over the summer.

"You hear about it, but you never expect it to happen to a baby," McGee said.

Mekhi was her second relative to be killed in Chicago's gun violence, she added. In 2015, her 39-year-old cousin Randy James was the city's first homicide victim of the year.

Harriet Holmes marched carrying a sign for her grandson Nahmar, a 23-year-old shot 16 times in 2016.

"It never stops because a lot of these parents are aware that their kids are in gangs and have guns and they aren't speaking up. That's not how things should be," she said.

Other cities across the US saw increases in violence as well in 2020. Nationally, the FBI reported a 20.9 percent increase in homicides in the first nine months of the year.

Both the pandemic and civil unrest across the US contributed to the increase, and major urban centers were the most affected. But none approached Chicago levels.

This week Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the pandemic was partly to blame for the uptick in violence.

"It's been a hard time," Lightfoot said. "Frustration, anger, unfortunately some of that is playing out in violence."

But the Reverend Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest leading Thursday's protest, said the surge in gun crime could not be blamed on Covid-19.

"Don't make the virus a scapegoat for not dealing with the violence," he warned.