'I can't go home to bury my brother': B.C. man mourns family members killed amid U.S. unrest
VICTORIA -- A Vancouver Island school principal is in mourning after his brother and cousin were both gunned down amid a weekend of violence in the United States that erupted out of peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Dionte Jelks grew up in Chicago before moving to British Columbia to escape what he describes as the "systemic racism" and "senseless violence" of his upbringing.
Now a school principal and beloved Victoria football coach, Jelks learned Sunday that his younger brother and cousin were both killed that afternoon on Chicago's South Side – "murdered in cold blood," he says, "because of rioting and looting."
"I always dread phone calls when I look down and they're from Chicago," Jelks says. "I hold my breath every single time."
The call was from his sister. He ignored it for the moment as he walked along a Victoria beach after getting ice cream with his wife and three young sons.
"Everybody was happy, everybody was smiling," he says. But the phone rang again as Jelks sat with his family on a driftwood log, looking out across the water at the mountains of western Washington state.
"It was my mom and I knew that something wasn’t good," Jelks says. "I picked up the phone and all I can hear is my mother's quivering voice saying, 'My baby's gone.'"
Darius Jelks, 32, had just picked up his cousin, 39-year-old Maurice Jelks, in the Calumet Heights neighbourhood of Chicago, when both men were gunned down in their car at 1:40 p.m. local time. They were pronounced dead at the scene.
Jelks's sister found their bodies and described to CTV News how rioting and looting brought chaos on the neighbourhood, even in broad daylight.
"I had no words to comfort her," Jelks says. "I couldn’t even shed tears because I'm so desensitized to the violence, to the destruction, to the racism, that I have nothing left in me to mourn – nothing."
'The U.S. was built on racism'
The Langford man describes his early life as an escape from a cycle of violence that left him in a household without male role models. It's a cycle that continues now for his two young nephews whose father was taken away Sunday.
"I can't go home to bury my brother, I can't go home to bury my cousin," Jelks says, citing COVID-19 restrictions on international travel. "It's all left up to my mother because all the black males in my family are dead, in jail."
Jelks remembers his brother as "very bubbly," someone he would spend weekends on the phone with, making each other laugh. "We loved to eat, we loved to crack jokes," he says. "I'm going to miss him."
The Langford educator is now pouring his grief into bettering the lives of his nephews in Chicago, whom he says he is determined to bring to Canada and raise alongside his own boys.
"All five of them will be able to sit on the porch, crack jokes and laugh as old men," Jelks says.
"I doubt I will ever step foot back on to U.S. soil," he adds, saying the last time he was back home was in October for the funeral of a nephew who died by suicide, calling the experience overwhelming.
"I don't feel safe having my boys cross the border," Jelks says.
Protests have erupted in dozens of cities across the U.S. following the killing of Floyd, a black man who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck until he stopped breathing.
"The U.S. was built on racism and it's going to take a hell of a lot to deconstruct that racism,” Jelks says. Demonstrations of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement have since sprung up in cities in Canada and around the world.
"With help, hopefully I will be able to bring my nephews to Victoria to experience life as it should be,” Jelks says. “Not dodging bullets and growing up fatherless."