Opinion: Do We Dare Love The Shooter?

“While I am not advocating sympathy for the boy who shot Dajae,” writes one Evanston mom, “I do believe it is critical to examine how our community’s dismissal of boys like Wesley leads to violence.”

Dear Editor: 

Many of us have healed over and gotten back to our normal activities after the senseless murder of Dajae Coleman broke our hearts and motivated us to get our families fed and ourselves out the door and to a community meeting after a long day at work or after picking up our child from practice or both. 

Today the colors and the crisp air say fall, a reminder that life goes on. Not for Dajae Coleman’s family. As a mother of three sons, the Colemans are living my worst nightmare. The sudden, permanent loss of their boy must be unimaginably painful. My thoughts wander to them often. 

Dajae Coleman: The Story So Far

My thoughts also wander to the other family who lost their boy that night, the family of Wesley Woodson, III, the alleged shooter, who has been charged with first degree murder and will likely spend the rest of his life in prison. The Woodson’s loss is private and comes with great shame. My heart goes out to them too. 

While I am not advocating sympathy for the boy who shot Dajae, I do believe it is critical to examine how our community’s dismissal of boys like Wesley leads to violence. If that feels too close to sympathy for you, please consider how NOT examining how our community dismisses boys like Wesley makes it a more dangerous place for boys like Dajae. That ought to change your mind quick. 

We failed to keep Dajae Coleman safe the night he was shot. I would give anything to rewind time and call in a police cruiser to patrol Church Street. Anything. 

We also failed Wesley Woodson, long before. We wrote him off. I did. Woodson was shot in his stomach in west Evanston this past May. I may have seen news about his shooting in the Evanston Review, but I definitely didn’t do anything about it, didn’t write a letter to anyone. I didn’t hear of any community meeting about the shooting, but probably wouldn’t have gone anyway, considering Woodson’s “gang associations,” hence the bullet in his gut. Woodson and his ilk are the boys I write off. They make me uncomfortable and seem too far gone.  

It is much easier to care about, protect, and support boys like Dajae Coleman. Mayor Tisdahl was correct when she called Dajae Coleman, “what is best in our community.” By looking at the circumstances that created his killer, I’m really asking us to explore ways to raise up more boys like Dajae. How do we create an entire city of proud, promising, healthy young men?

Families play the biggest role, for sure. However, that is a topic for a different letter writer. I’d rather focus on the fact that there are committed people out there filling in where and when families need help. Dajae Coleman’s death has moved our family to give greater attention and support to organizations that SUPPORT AT RISK YOUTH IN EVANSTON, including Youth Umbrella Organization, The Ted Fund, the Youth Job Center, the Moran Center, Curt’s Cafe, Family Focus, and the McGaw YMCA. There are other groups and organizations doing their part. They need our help. 

We all have full, busy lives, our own stuff to deal with. Still, unless we do things differently, we won’t be able to keep our children safe. Worse, we won’t properly honor Dajae Coleman and the tremendous suffering of his family and friends.  

Let’s not go back to normal. 

With respect,

Coley Gallagher

Dan Cox October 12, 2012 at 11:10 PM
You are correct,we need to reach out to the young people and show love and respect. The idea of punishment is a self inflicted wound that comes back to hurt us. We do not teach our children about Gun Safety at early ages and we do not teach teenagers about how Draconian, Illinois Gun Laws are. So a Kid ends up with a Felony Record and has a very narrow path to survive, a life of crime.
holly October 13, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Perfectly put and very thought-provoking. Thanks for providing a fresh perspective on this senseless tragedy.
Dileep Gangolli October 13, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Good letter. In such cases, both families and our community loses two children not just the deceased. It is indeed reprehensible that a young boy with love in his heart was killed in such a senseless way. But we as a community must also ask what makes another young man with his whole life ahead of him act in such a manner so close to his home and within his own community.
Evanstonian October 13, 2012 at 12:49 PM
What a beautiful essay. We MUST dare to love Wesley Woodson or, as you say, we won't be able help the boys like Dajae. violence like this is a community problem, not an individual one. Thanks for the this.
Candida Pugh October 13, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Totally agreed. And if anyone doubts these young men have been written off, they can look for Curt's Cafe in the coming months. It well may not be there. Money flows to college football, to our dogs, to street paving, to iPhones for our own children, but not much trickles out to stem the turmoil that fells someone like Wesley Coleman. Curts Cafe is an attempt to bond with such young men and instill in them the moral compass they need to make the right decision, to care about their own lives and thus about the lives of others.
Jim Osburn October 13, 2012 at 05:56 PM
True, two families deeply hurt, one promising life snuffed out, one ruined and a circle of fiends and neighbors traumatized. So, should we reach out to the Wesleys with sympathy and gentleness? NO! We should reach out with firmness and strong male role models! For decades society has tried a "soft" approach with very limited success (do you recall the song in Westside Story when the gangbangers of that day mock Officer Krumpke?). Contrast that with the American military training model where a DI pushes young men to think and act beyond their own self centered wants. During the pre-teen and teen years, there is a natural tendency for guys (regardless of race) to form "packs"--let us guide that tendency into forms such as the Boy Scouts rather than the Gangster Disciples
Lonson Williams October 14, 2012 at 03:50 AM
Is this serious? First of all, Woodson is not a child, so the references of him as a "boy" are misguided. Secondly, why does the author assume that our "community's dismissal" of Woodson led to his alleged crime? It makes no sense. Do you know this guy? JUst because I happen to live in the same municipal boundaries as an alleged murder doesn't mean that me or anyone else in the "community" has any responsibility for his violence. One thing to keep in mind is that Woodson was the direct beneficiary of the city council's policy last year to make it easier on drug dealers by reducing the penalities for possession of certain amounts of drugs. Instead of going on probation or jail, you just get a ticket. Twice in the last year, Woodson appeared on the city dockets for drug-related tickets. I don't know what happened in his case, but under the old policy he could have been in jail or more closely watched by authorities. The main thing the "community" needs to do with people like Woodson is to insure that the city make life miserable for such low lifes.
Dan Cox October 14, 2012 at 11:16 AM
If we follow your line of thinking, we alienate the young man and make him feel like we are the Enemy. He will become more violent and will begin to enjoy inflicting harm upon his oppressors. We create our own misery when we fail to treat each other as fellow human being's that deserve to be loved and respected. That being said, I Conceal Carry a Handgun and would not hesitate to defend my life or the lives of others if Woodson had opened fire on us. It is our Right to defend ourselves and our fellow citizens from a violent attacker. Woodson is the product of a broken system and a broken family values epidemic. Where are the Fathers of these young men, walking the street like monsters?
annie October 14, 2012 at 06:40 PM
I agree with Lonson. First of all, Wesley is 20, old enough to make good decisions about his life. The community of Evanston and his parents did not fail him. His parents are good people. He failed himself. He made choices of: selling drugs, in other words he was a pusher, and pushers carry guns. He was charged with carrying a gun last July, but it wasn't "proven", so the charges were dropped. I bet his parents worked tirelessly to keep that kid out of trouble, but ultimately its up the kid/young man to make positive choices and he refused to change. I remember him when he was 10,11, 12 as a smiling happy kid. I don't know when he changed. I don't know what changed him. The wrong crowd? Using/selling drugs? My own kid who went to school with him said: "he is exactly where he should be. He is one of the meanest persons I have ever met and I stayed as far away from him as I could." So, there you have it. I don't know "who" could have saved him. He wanted to be who he was.
BJH October 15, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Speaking from perosnal experience I had been slow to voice the same opinion but probably form a different perspective. But thanks for addressing the "Elephant in the room".
GK October 18, 2012 at 03:56 PM
You have got to be joking. Our community did not "dismiss" Wesley Woodson whom you describe as a boy at age 20. Woodson grew up in Evanston and played Evanston hockey, EBSA and was the beneficiary of other youth programs our community provides to ALL youth in Evanston. Woodson chose to turn away from all that's good in our community and turned to the thugs and gangbangers who continue to terrorize their neighbors as we speak. I do not feel sorry for Woodson's family. Did they not know he was a gang banger? Did they not know he was dealing drugs? Did they not know he kept a loaded gun in their home? Enough with the guilt! Get the gangbangers off the streets and out of Evanston.
Tiffany November 01, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Ditto GK


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