They came together on a parking lot at the corner of 25th and State streets in East St. Louis, and their message was clear: Put an end to the gun violence that has held a firm grip on their city.
It was the Sept. 23 shooting of Cedric Gooden, a 25-year-old up-and-coming rapper known professionally as “Cold Kase,” that brought them there.
“Too many young people are losing and have lost their lives,” said Rayon Dansberry, a spokesperson for Hearts Of A Safe House, the organization that sponsored Friday’s march. “We are tired of seeing young black men and women lying dead in the streets of East St. Louis, Washington Park, Cahokia and surrounding communities.”
“If we don’t speak up now, a loft of black people will continue to die in the streets. Silence is violence.”
In 2014, two weeks before his release from his own 18-year prison term for robbery, Dansberry was notified that his 16-year-old was killed as he sat in a car in Centerville.
“He was an athlete. He played football and basketball — he had so much going for him,” Dansberry said. “He was looking forward to me getting out of prison and towards us being together.”
After his son was murdered, Dansberry said he challenged himself to lead the charge against violence in the metro-east so other parents “won’t have to go through what I did.”
“We have to talk to the young people and we have to listen to what they have to say,” he said. “We have to show them love and teach them the importance of loving each other even though they are not birth brothers and sisters.”
It was Dansberry at the center of Friday’s demonstration, leading the march from 25th and State streets to the Officer Funeral Home on Missouri Avenue. Gooden, 25, was shot and killed while selling compact discs of his music at a gas station at 83rd and State streets.
Dansberry turned to the crowd and shouted “Cold Kase, Cold Kase.” Supporters echoed their reply: “Cold Kase! Cold Kase!”
Teran Jeffries, 32, of East St. Louis, was charged by the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s office with the first-degree murder of Gooden on Sept. 27. He also was charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon. Charging documents say Jeffries had a 7.62 caliber semiautomatic firearm. He had previously been convicted of armed robbery in November 2014.
Jeffries is being held at the St. Clair County Jail on $2.5 million bond.
An innocent victim
Those who gathered to honor Gooden’s memory Friday spoke of the rapper’s many good deeds: his volunteer work in the city, reading to the children and giving them money to keep them from stealing.
Young and old sought Gooden out to talk, looking for inspiration from an otherwise solemn life, said Roland Brown.
“He made the day for many of us, who were feeling down and out, “ Brown said.
Their mourning turned often to anger at the violence that has gripped the streets of East St. Louis.
The city averaged 24 murders per year from 2000 through 2018. Gooden fit the profile of the typical victim, who are 90% black and 85% male. They also were young with an average age of 30.
Gooden’s killing also, apparently, was random. East St. Louis and Illinois State Police have yet to publicly identify Jeffries’ motives.
Those who gathered at the place where Gooden died only know that he didn’t have it coming.
When the group turned the corner to Missouri Avenue, they were met by another crowd waiting in the doorway to the funeral home. Gooden was laid to rest Saturday.
Stephanie Reynolds, Gooden’s aunt, was there, she said, to spread a message of “peace and positive vibes” to the community.
“That’s who Cedric Gooden was,” she said.
‘This has to stop’
From a senseless death, people in the crowd said they want the community to remember the positive messages that Gooden spread in his music and with his life.
Damon Swisher didn’t know Gooden personally, but joined the procession “because of all of the senseless violence”.
“This has to stop. It must stop,” he said. “Small children — 2, 3,, 4, 5, and 6 years old — have been killed. How is it that we don’t have the heart to talk to one another and put the guns down?
“We say the white man is doing it to us, but most of the killings that are occurring in our neighborhoods are committed by black people. We have no communication among each other and no love for each other. Without the both of them, the killings will continue.”
Reynods learned of the tragedy from her sister who lives in Phoenix Cut Apartments. She heard gunshots and jumped off the couch.
“Her daughter was headed to meet Cedric to talk to him. She came back and confirmed it,” Reynolds said.
At the hospital, Reynolds said she knew Gooden was gone when a security guard came to escort the family to another room.
“Cedric was loved. He came from a good family,” Reynolds said. “His mom was a singer, his dad played piano. Cedric had a knack for music. So many nights his grandmother fussed at him to get him off his computer. He did it and did it well. He was always a happy person.”
‘Love, not title’
Reynolds spoke of the support her family received from local police agencies when Gooden’s uncle, Washington Park auxiliary officer Ricardo Davis, died from a fall off the Poplar Street Bridge in pursuit of a pair of suspects. She said she was proud that the community showed the same outpouring of support.
For Reynolds all that matters is “love, not a title.”
Some of those supporters wiped away tears as they viewed Gooden in the casket. Others managed to hold their tears until they were outside and away from the funeral home. And some said they were inspired to turn their sadness and disgust into positive works that will help bring change to the community that will honor Gooden’s legacy.
Juan Garth leaned on words written into Gooden’s rap lyrics, particularly the one that was screened onto a shirt from Gooden’s line of clothing: “You don’t have to have a dime to have a rich mind,” it says.
Hearts Of A Safe House is located at 4601 State Street, Suite D in East St. Louis.