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November 8, 2012

From Young Man To Young Man

[The following blog is by CSGV intern Jack Anthony.]

“My mom pushes me to do better, she always tells me to never settle. I think the kids that are on the street not doing anything with their lives don’t get the type of support they need from family. They probably don’t have anyone to look up to.” - Dajae Coleman, “My Belief Statement”

On the night of September 24, Dajae Coleman, 14, was fatally shot in the chest as he was walking home from a party less than a mile from his home in Evanston, Illinois. A fight had broken out at the party, supposedly involving the female cousin of the shooter, Wesley Woodson III. She texted him to say she had been in the altercation. He arrived wielding a 9mm and gunned down Dajae in what prosecutors are calling it a “case of mistaken identity.”

Woodson, 20, has been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm without bail. According to Evanston Police Commander Jay Parrot, “Woodson has gang affiliations and this was a retaliatory act upon an innocent group of teens with no gang affiliations.”

Dajae was described by Evanston Township High basketball coach as a “tremendous athlete and a tremendous person…a guy who led by example.” Dajae was also a leader in the classroom. To be a good student at Evanston Township High is no small order. 100 percent of the class of 2011 scored above the national average on the ACT and 43 of the 693 members of the current senior class received National Merit Awards. Dajae’s middle school teacher Willa Williams wrote, “Dajae had dreams, Dajae worked hard all the time, and Dajae was first true to himself and his family.” Finally, when Dajae wasn’t studying or playing sports, he held a job at a local community center.

Dajae’s father, Richard Coleman, described his son in the following words: “He wasn’t one of those guys. He wasn’t someone who you’d think would get killed like this. But really, in the society we’re living in, he actually was one of the good ones, the innocent ones that leave early. He told me he wanted to be an engineer or maybe a doctor, I told him that’s a lot of work. And he said, ‘You know me dad, I can do it.”

I am now 18 years old, the time when teenage aspirations begin to turn into a working reality. Dajae was about to seize this opportunity. He was a great student at a great school, the kind of kid that politicians claim we need to invest in. He was doing everything right in his life. Why was it cut short? Because he was near a petty argument he had nothing to do with? It’s time for politicians to talk about the flaws in our gun laws that abetted this tragedy.

In a phone interview, Commander Parrot told me that the 9mm gun used to kill Dajae has yet to be recovered. “There are a few ways these gang members get guns,” he said. “In Chicago, if you have a license you can buy a gun, but some sometimes guns are stolen and they scratch off the serial number; sometimes guns are transferred through straw purchases; and sometimes they buy them in other states and bring them over [into Illinois].”

As commander Parrot suggested, many of Illinois’ crime guns do indeed come from out of state. A 2011 study by Mayors Against Illegal Guns shows that Indiana and Mississippi are the two main exporters. Most of the crime guns recovered in Chicago, however, are originally bought in Illinois. Just one county– Cook County—is estimated as being the source of 45% of the state’s crime guns (based on a study from 2008 to 2012 by the University of Chicago Crime Lab). And the biggest supplier in Cook County is Chuck’s Gun Store, estimated as the source of about one in five crime guns in Illinois. Roseanna Ander, executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab said that the data “suggests a key strategy in keep guns off the street is for law enforcement agencies to target the local gun stores most likely to sell firearms to straw purchasers.”

Given this data, it’s shocking how little Illinois does to crack down on illegal gun trafficking. For example, in Illinois there is no limit on bulk purchases of handguns—which are popular among straw purchasers. Residents are not required to report firearm thefts, or register the guns they buy. There is no regulation on private firearm sales in Illinois—residents can sell guns to one another without conducting background checks or keeping records of sale. Finally, there is no state-level regulation of gun dealers in Illinois and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—due to a lack of manpower—is only able to inspect the inventories of federally licensed firearms dealers once every ten years on average. Does Illinois really expect us to believe it’s doing everything in its power to stop gun crime?

On a human level, from young man to young man, I’m writing about Dajae Coleman so that all his talent, his promise, is not diminished by the horrible act that stole his life. In the slaughter of this young man, we see a broken promise of politicians. A principal function of our government is the establishment of justice and the preservation of “domestic tranquility.” How many more victims of gun violence will it take before we start to realize that life is liberty? No one is free who has to worry about being shot on his way home. A society in which thugs and vigilantes establish their own code of “justice” is no society our Founders would approve of. Nor a society that any of us should accept.

Dajae did everything he could to make his life and those around him better. Shouldn’t we hold our elected officials to the same standard?