Dantrell Davis shouldn't be forgotten

It's been 20 years since 7-year-old was shot and killed while walking to school in Cabrini-Green

Dantrell Davis.

"Does anybody know that name?"

It was Thursday afternoon, and I was standing in Mathias "Spider" Schergen's classroom at Jenner Academy of the Arts when — only because I'd asked him — he put the question to a group of second- and third-graders.

Most of the kids gave him a puzzled look. One boy fired his hand into the air.

"He got killed," the boy said.

The boy went on.

"A couple of years ago. When I was 5. Yeah. I saw it. It was a dude on the top of the building. He was trying to shoot a Vice Lord, and he shot Dantrell. I heard the gunshots."

This wasn't the first time that Schergen, who has taught art here for almost 20 years, has heard a student's imaginative version of the Dantrell Davis story.

"It has the makings of an urban legend," he said.

Some students think Dantrell was coming home from school the day he died, instead of heading there. Some think he died not so long ago. Or very, very long ago. Some think he was much older than he was.

"They don't realize," Schergen said, "that he was just a boy."

Just a boy.

If you lived in Chicago when Dantrell was killed, 20 years ago this week, you must remember how that boy's death shook the city.

The date was Oct. 13, 1992, in the violent days when rival gangs ruled the crowded Cabrini-Green housing complex on the Near North Side.

Dantrell, who was 7, was walking to Jenner Elementary School, holding his mother's hand, when he was hit in the head by a bullet fired from a Cabrini high-rise.

His name quickly became a symbol of everything that was wrong with Chicago public housing, and soon Cabrini, along with the rest of the city's public housing high-rises, was slated to come down.

Just how potent Dantrell was as a symbol is evident in this letter to the editor that one of his teachers wrote to the Tribune:

"Dantrell has become a cause, a martyr, a tragic symbol. But he was just a little boy. He loved riding a tricycle real fast round and round in circles in the gym. He loved it when it was his turn to write the number on the calendar during calendar time. He loved playing 'Memory,' he loved trucks, he hated art. He loved chocolate milk and pizza."

In the anger, sorrow and righteous indignation, the teacher pleaded, "I ask you all to take a moment with me and remember the child."

"That was a real, real sad incident," the receptionist in Jenner's main office said Thursday when I arrived unannounced, "and not everybody wants to talk about it."

CHICAGO

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