Calling someone a "perfect homicide victim" sounds terribly callous. But it explains the political/media liturgy that we all know so well.
By a perfect victim, I mean one who is innocent, photogenic and never arrested, with a bright future.
The parents of the perfect victims aren't forgotten. They might be mentioned by presidents and sit next to the first lady. Mayors might call their homes and offer condolences.
But what of the mothers of the imperfect victims? What happens to them?
Their children are the others, with police records, imperfect because they have little symbolic value to politicians or the news media. City Hall sends out the word that the murder was "gang-related" and the imperfect victims are quickly buried at the bottom of the news pile.
Recently, the mother of an imperfect victim sent me a letter about Chicago police detectives who haven't forgotten, William Sullivan and Michele Moore-Grose.
The woman's name is Kathy Cummings. She raised her nephew as her son. Technically, she's an aunt. But she's the one who raised him. She's the mom.
Her son, Dwoyne Baker, was shot and killed on his street in the South Chicago neighborhood in June 2010. He was 29, had some arrests, but had straightened himself out and was on the verge of a job.
In her letter to me, Cummings even mentioned a perfect victim, 12-year-old Nazia Banks, called "Peanut" because of his tiny size. He was perfect in his innocence, but his death was overshadowed by the NATO summit, which opened as he was shot in the head while running toward home.
Here's what Kathy Cummings wrote, with only minor edits:
Dear Mr. Kass,
I live on the next block down from the Banks family and am friends with the neighbors on that block. I passed Peanut daily coming home from work, playing basketball in the street or throwing a football around with the other guys on the block. I always got smiles and waves from the kids. That's the real description of our neighborhood, friendly, not a shooting gallery.
I remember the night it happened. I went down the block toward the house, getting information as I passed other neighbors. How the shooters came from the gangway and shot him. Who the target was. Like all other shootings the rumors start, the guessing at the target, why he was shot, how he was shot. A shooting fires speculation to a fever pitch, and everyone has an opinion.
The sad part is that those that know the truth never speak out or even give hints to the police to help solve the crime. Besides the gathering of neighbors, Detective William Sullivan was there. I know him from the drive-by shooting of my son on June 6, 2010. We call him my son, since my husband and I raised him from a child, but in reality he was our nephew.
He was shot in front of our home, standing talking to a childhood friend about the Lakers game that just went off. He was 29 years old and the father of four. I would call Detective Sullivan once a month for about a year, trying to keep my son's name from becoming a name on a piece of paper in unsolved homicide files. Then I called every six months and the answer was the same, "We have the gun that killed him but can't tie to a person. We have an idea who is responsible but no proof."
Detectives Sullivan and Michele Moore-Grose are available to our family and I am sure to the Banks family. Detective Sullivan just contacted us the other day still working on our case, we have the comfort knowing that he is on the job and we are not forgotten. I have great faith in Detective Sullivan in his pursuit of these individuals, hopefully it will resolve Mr. Banks' and our family's painful past.
Rest assured that my son, Peanut and all the other kids and young men who we have known since their childhood have not been forgotten by us on our blocks. Their names and stories of their exploits and accomplishments, however small, come up often during summer porch-sitting conversations.
The city of Chicago may have never known them or even cared what happened to them or who they were, or their families' pain, but to us they are always remembered as our children, and will be for all time.
South Chicago, where Dwoyne and Peanut and other victims lived in the old steel mill district, is an awful lot like the imperfect victims themselves.
Many Chicagoans who play in the trendier North Side areas don't even know South Chicago exists.
Since 2007, there have been more than 75 homicides in the area. Many are connected. Boys who played with each other in second grade end up on either side of a gun when they get older, as victims or shooters.
Cummings said she wrote to me because of the intense media coverage given to Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old whose funeral was attended by first lady Michelle Obama.
"Her death was just everywhere. It was like she was the only person in the world this happened to and it made me sad, that's all," she said.
She wanted it understood she's not critical of the Pendleton family. But for every Hadiya there are many forgotten victims. And many forgotten mothers.
Dwoyne was "finally growing up," she said, and he was happy the day he was killed. He burst into her kitchen, gave her a big hug and a smile, announcing he had an interview for a "J-O-B!" Hours later he was dead.
His killer remains at large.
In the coming days, I'll tell you about Detectives Sullivan and Moore-Grose, who haven't given up on this case or those of other imperfect victims.