Gun violence escalates in Urbana over past two years into “emergency” situation

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Adrian Watson Jr., a 20-year-old from Danville, was shot to death on October 10 in the early morning on the 1000 block of South Smith Road in Urbana. 

When police arrived at the scene, they found Watson with multiple wounds. He later died that day at Carle Foundation Hospital, according to an Urbana Police report. Later, Champaign man Amahrion Lee, 18, was arrested for first-degree murder and home invasion.

Watson’s death was Urbana’s eighth fatal shooting of 2021 – a year that has seen 99 shooting incidents through November.

Only four years ago, Urbana police reported just 17 shooting incidents and no fatalities. The numbers doubled by the end of 2019, and have nearly doubled in each of the two years since, according to an analysis of police data by CU-CitizenAccess. 

Out of the 99 shootings through November 18, at least 24 individuals were injured, meaning that when combined with homicides, one-in-three people were killed or wounded when shots were fired.

Carol Mitten, the city administrator for Urbana, did a presentation during a September council meeting in which she said altered guns are one cause of the increase in gun violence in the city. These firearm devices can fire 30 bullets within 2 seconds, she said.

“We have experienced drive-by shootings, we have experienced shootings in occupied houses. People have been killed in their houses,” Mitten said at the meeting. “If that’s not an emergency I don’t know what that is.”

Social problems such as chronic poverty, housing insecurity and stress in work or family life are possible factors contributing to the increase of not just gun shootings, but also domestic violence in general, said Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin. 

The easy accessibility to guns and weapons can also contribute to the increase in gun violence, Marlin said.

“It seems to be very easy to obtain a weapon, even if you’re a kid, you know, a teenager, and the weapons we’re seeing on the streets,” Marlin said. “Now, some of them are much more deadly. There’s a way to convert a pistol now into something that fires like a machine gun.”

The city council had two strategic goal setting sessions on December 2 and 3. At the sessions, the council members came together to set goals by relating and aligning community improvement priorities and evaluating their relationships with Urbana, according to the council input portion of its meeting on December 6.

At the December 13 council meeting, Mitten said the talks will continue and an action plan will be developed by the council until. 

“We’re finishing up the action items for the different strategies, continuing in the small groups,” she said. She also mentioned a final session in January “to work as a total group” to finalize the strategic goals and action plans agreed to by the council. 

In a recent event at News, Brews & Beatz, a discussion series hosted by Illinois Public Media, at Pour Bros Craft Taproom in downtown Champaign, community members gathered around to discuss their concerns about gun violence in both Urbana and Champaign.

Urbana community member Barbara Jones said she feels there is not enough action being taken in for the city of Urbana.

“It’s frustrating to me, because it seems like there’s great discussions, I have been to discussions in this city. So many discussions for the last five or six years,” Jones said. “But then nothing happens. I mean, we have these discussions, and we promise we’re going to do X, Y, and Z. And it never happens.”

Marlin said addressing the issue of gun violence will take short- and long-term investments. One of the investments was possibly automated license plate readers implemented in areas in Urbana, but the city council voted against it in November. Champaign has yet to vote on using the same readers, but will on Dec. 21.

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