Michele Dowdy is mourning the loss of her only child. She cries often, she’s tired – and she’s angry.
She has good reason.
Ten months after her son, Malcom, was shot and killed in Chicago, his murderer still has not been brought to justice. There have been no arrests in the case and Michele worries that police will never apprehend her son’s killer.
Malcom Dowdy, 33, was not in a gang; he was not involved in a fight at the time of the shooting – he was simply a family man in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was shot by mistake, which weighs heavy on Michele’s heart.
“As a parent I did everything I was supposed to do,” Michele told me. “Someone else didn’t do their job and because of that my family’s world has been turned upside down. We are all still very devastated. His ancestors are angry. It only took a second to do this. He had his whole life ahead of him, a bright future at 33 years old.”
Police are stymied because nobody in the South Side neighborhood is talking about Malcom Dowdy’s murder. The infamous “No Snitch” rule that has permeated black communities across the country is widely in effect 24/7. Rappers sing about it; black teenagers wear “Don’t Snitch” t-shirts and, for young black kids, talk of snitching has become a dangerous way of life.
Black residents are understandably afraid to come forward about murders – even anonymously – because they fear repercussions from gang members. It’s a tough thing to ask, but Michele is asking anyway. And at some point, however, black residents must work with police if they ever expect to take back their neighborhoods.
“The shooter shot in the crowd at someone else and missed,” Michele said. “To this day no suspects have been apprehended, a usual occurrence in Chicago. Someone saw something, someone knows something.”
“My son was shot and killed going home from a party that should have never been given,” she added. “There were at least 300 people in attendance in an area too small to accommodate them. He started not to go but changed his mind to go with three other friends.”
Malcom Dowdy was murdered on Memorial Day in Chicago last year, a particularly violent weekend where 40 people were shot and 10 died over three days. There were a total of 506 homicides in Chicago in 2012, the majority of shooting deaths involving black men.
A veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, Malcom Dowdy was the assistant director of security at a Chicago company, a straight-A student at DeVry University, and the father of a one-year-old daughter.
“He was the first grandchild on both sides of the family, a proud father of a daughter who just made two years old this January, he had a fiancé, a new home, he was a veteran, a dean’s list student, a working man,,” Michele said. “He was well-respected by all. But most of all, he was my son, my heir, my backup, my protector, my confidant, not perfect, mine. At the time of his death he was very, very happy and planning a wedding.”
Black men like Malcom Dowdy are dying senselessly on the streets of Chicago and police can’t seem to close their cases. It’s difficult for Michele to accept that her son’s killer is walking the streets of Chicago. If only someone –anyone — would talk. But this is the seemingly insurmountable problem that Michele faces. She understands the situation intellectually, but it doesn’t make it any easier emotionally.
“I’m very angry for obvious reasons,” Michele said. “My city has let me down, failed me, its number one fan. My Mayor has been silent, the superintendent of police only quotes stats — hell, these are human beings and one death is too many.”
“Our police are overwhelmed with more than 500 unsolved murder cases from 2012,” she said. “And then there’s that darn code of silence in the black community “No Snitch.” The next day we start all over again. Another murder, another march against gun violence, media, gun turn-ins, mothers crying, ministers praying.”
Michele said she has made numerous attempts to keep Malcom’s name in the public eye, posting comments on her Facebook page and handing out flyers offering a reward for anonymous leads, but there is only silence.
“Everyone needs to be held accountable for the murders in the predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods,” Michele said. “That includes the residents, the gang bangers, the businesses and the aldermen and alderwomen.”
“Until recently you couldn’t tell me my city was any different than any other large urban location,” she added. “I loved my city, it’s truly beautiful and I’ve lived here all my life. A black man’s life expectancy is very short here, it always has been. Truthfully, I didn’t want him to come back to Chicago after he was out of the service. But I also thought I had beaten the odds; I took a deep breath, relaxed. I did my job.”
And today, Michele is still grieving.
Politicians, including President Barack Obama, are speaking out against urban gun violence, but Malcom Dowdy’s case is getting cold. Michele is worn out these days but says she wants City Hall to pay attention to her plight. She’s even prepared to stand in front of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office with a handwritten sign that reads: “What about Malcom?”
She deserves an answer. And she deserves justice for her son.