September 22 marks the two-year anniversary of the tragic shooting death of Dajae Coleman, a 14-year-old Evanston Township High School student who was gunned down by a known gang member in a case of mistaken identity. As the community continues to mourn his loss, much action has been taken to address the problem of gun violence in our community.
Actions by the City
Evanston Police Commander Jay Parrott said shootings have “remained fairly consistent” since Dajae’s death, but crime is down “across the board” and incidents of gun violence “are not worse.”
“Dajae’s death is very sad, very unfortunate. It’s the worst case scenario, the death of a child,” said Cmdr. Parrott. The Commander said he believes the EPD has been successful in its mission to address violent crime. The Department is working hard to recover handguns and “people cooperate more [with the police],” he said. The EPD has worked to create “a good relationship” with people in the community.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl issued a message to Evanston residents in July, laying out specific steps the City has taken to “make Evanston safer.” Among these steps are efforts by the EPD to get guns off the streets, the employment of more than 500 youth over the summer through the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program, and the development of “comprehensive workforce training programs targeted toward our most at-risk young people.” In addition, the City has six outreach workers who “interact directly with the youth involved in these criminal activities to connect them with job and training opportunities,”
Silence of Residents
The challenge, many say, is not identifying the suspects in gun incidences, but rather getting residents to come forward with information to help arrest and convict them.
“It’s a hard group to penetrate,” Cmdr. Parrott said. There is a fear factor with getting involved. Victims of violence are not always willing to cooperate because of the “gang culture.” Many believe “it’s our business and we’ll take care of it” and are not willing to involve police, he said.
Tiffany Rice, Dajae’s mother, agrees. “People hesitate to come forward for a number of reasons,” she said. There is “a senseless street code of conduct – ‘the no snitch rule,’” she added.
“People have to live in the same community with the offender’s family and friends, and do not want to live in fear [of retaliation]. Evanston has a lot of families [who have lived here for generations], and it’s such a small community that a lot of families are related in some way, so another reason for withholding information is because the offender could be a family member, and loyalty instead of good moral sense prevails,” Ms. Rice said.
Ms. Rice created the Dajae Coleman Foundation or DC3F in 2013 to honor her son’s memory and help others in the community. The 3 in the foundation name comes from Dajae’s Evanston Pride basketball jersey number.
“When Dajae was killed, I was devastated, and it looked like an entire community was hurt, especially his friends and Evanston youth in general. We were left with a void, and I knew I had to do something to sort of extend his life. I knew I had to fill that void with something, and thought, ‘What better way to commemorate his life while helping others at the same time?’”
The non-profit DC3, “provides Evanston’s youth with the opportunity to maximize their potential by creating an informed and mobilized environment, which aims to enhance their quality of life, and develop them into men and women of integrity. DC3F offers programs that motivate the youth and instill positive values that help to guide them. It is DC3F’s mission to uplift, encourage, empower, and reward our youth,” according to its website.
“DaeDae World Weekend”
For the past two years, DC3F has hosted “DaeDae World Weekend” to celebrate Dajae’s life and bring the community together.
This year’s event will take place Sept.19-20 and “will consist of activities that reflect the core values that shaped his life: family support, determination, and positive social interactions,” according to the Foundation.
Headlined under the theme “Living Well is Essential to Your Potential,” the weekend will premiere Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center with a free family fun night.
The Sept. 20 Family Fitness Day at Evanston Township High School will focus on Dajae’s love of athletics and sports community – with zumba, yoga, Afrobics, and “The Challenge,” involving both mental and physical agility. Dajae’s longtime teammates, family and coaches will face off in a basketball game rematch.
More information, including ticket purchases, is available at dc3f.org.
During the year, DC3F offers tutoring programs for student athletes, summer reading initiatives, scholarships for high-achieving high school students and a college-readiness program.
“I think we’re making incremental progress,” said Ms. Rice. “Each time we have an event that at least one young person attends, I think that says something.
I don’t know if we’re totally changing lives, but we’re making imprints.”
When asked what residents can do to help reduce violence, Ms. Rice had this to say: “Just find some way to engage youth. Keep them active, which decreases their time on the street or exerted in unproductive activities. And just show that you care. I talk to the kids laterally, but still earn the respect. I tell them I love them and I care, and they know I’m sincere.”