For a few moments on Sept. 8, the name of slain Oak Park and River Forest High School student Elijah Sims got injected into this year’s presidential campaign, but not by any of the main three contenders for the nation’s highest office.
“This is where Elijah was murdered,” said Austin resident Zerlina Smith to Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate, as they both walked along Quincy Street with a group of about a half-dozen TV news cameras and reporters who struggled to document the scene without tripping over each other.
Stein was in Austin for what was billed as a “Reality Walk” through the West Side neighborhood. The tour took her past the corner of Quincy and Lotus, where a purple cross marked the place where Sims was shot and killed on Aug. 29 by an unidentified assailant. A teenager with Sims was also shot but survived. Sims died a day later, one day before his 17th birthday.
The crosses are the work of the Oak Park-based New Life Community Church, whose mission is to construct crosses on the site of every fatal shooting in Austin.
Smith, a Green Party organizer, is also a resident and block club president on the block where Sims was murdered last month while visiting friends. Smith said she knew Sims and his mother, Sharita Galloway, from a distance when they still lived in Austin. Galloway moved her family to Oak Park two years ago.
“A lady got shot in the foot at Gladys and Lockwood maybe 40 minutes prior to [Sims’ shooting],” Smith said. “I was sitting on my neighbor’s porch when we heard the gunshots. Me and my 7-year-old daughter walked down there, but by the grace of God, the police were still in the area from the last showing and they made it there quickly. Normally, the police response to gun violence in that area is maybe 15 to 20 minutes.”
“We are a divided nation and we’re an armed nation because we’re afraid of each other,” said Stein, speaking in reference to Sims’ death and its larger symbolism. “There’s a living legacy here [in America] of the institution of slavery because it kind of went from slavery to lynchings to Jim Crow to redlining of communities to mass incarceration to the War on Drugs to police violence. We have this history of racism and the flip side of that is white privilege and white supremacy and it’s hard for us to talk about it.”
Stein referenced several conventional proposals — including tighter gun laws and greater investment in neighborhoods like Austin — that she said would help alleviate some of the problems in the inner cities.
Other proposals demonstrated her status as a candidate on the margins of conventional politics. They included a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“so we can actually have a facilitated conversation to rebuild trust and get on the same page”) and for reparations to the African American community (“for the incredible burden that has fallen on your shoulders even though you built this country with your blood, sweat and tears”).
Bob Simpson, an Oak Park resident and Green Party supporter, said he believes the party sees race in a way that few of the other major or minor political parties can. Oak Park, he said, could be something of a testing ground for how Stein’s message might seep into the dominant political debate.
“There are people in Oak Park who share her point of view and who have a vision that goes beyond just the sort of visible border wall that exists here,” Simpson said. “There’s an opportunity for a real alliance to develop that’s more than just holding hands over Austin Boulevard.”
In the meantime, however, Stein and her party’s political significance still registers at barely a whisper across the country. Currently, most national polls show her garnering less than five percent of the vote. According to the Commission on Presidential Debates, third-party candidates need at least 15 percent of the national vote in order to get on the debate stage.