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Is teen caught up in drug case the real victim?

Tremel Thomas from Marshall High School.

Tremel Thomas from Marshall High School.

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Updated: October 23, 2013 6:39AM



There is an unintended side-effect of the effort to end violence in the black community.

Even though Chicago does not have a stop-and-frisk law, the violence undoubtedly has made police officers more aggressive.

And in some neighborhoods, it is increasingly difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

For instance, take the case of Tremel L. Thomas Jr., 17. Thomas, a Posse Foundation scholar, is an honors student and athlete at Marshall High School. The senior is two credits shy of graduating.

He also works part-time at Portillo’s Hot Dogs at Clark and Ontario.

But on Sept. 2, Thomas was picked up near Laramie and Washington on the West Side and charged with “delivery of a controlled substance.”

According to a police spokesman, Thomas was “observed under surveillance performing narcotics transactions.”

The teen emphatically denies selling drugs, and says police racially profiled him. He has no prior arrests.

“I was taking my grandmother something to eat because my grandfather had passed away and she hadn’t eaten in days,” Thomas told me in an interview.

“So, I brought her an Italian beef, french fries and a cheese cup.”

He said when he left his grandmother’s house, he stopped to talk with two guys on the street.

“Two blue and white cars drove up — one drove up from the alley — they jumped out with their guns drawn running toward me,” the teen said. “My first reaction was to run.”

Let me stop here and remind young people — if stopped by police, don’t run toward police and don’t run away from them. Stop.

Thomas said he got a couple of blocks when the officers caught up with him.

“I stopped and got on my knees and one officer kicked me to the ground and put me in handcuffs. I guess they thought I was selling drugs,” he said.

At the time of the arrest, Thomas was still wearing his work uniform.

“They put me in the car, and took me to the spot where I was and looked for evidence. They found a black lady in the alley and they put her in the back of the car and took us both to the 15th District Police Station,” he said.

Meanwhile, his mother, Tondelayo Wilson, was frantic.

“I was calling every police station. They kept saying they didn’t have him. I finally got a call from my son saying he was in jail,” Wilson said.

Neither Thomas nor his mother is accusing police officers of brutality.

But Wilson points out that it is too easy for innocent people in her neighborhood to be accused of crimes. This mother is afraid her son will end up in jail based on flimsy evidence.

Also, we live in an environment that is particularly hostile for young black males.

“One officer was saying I was a ‘liar’ and he was getting me fired from my job,” Thomas said.

“I was steady telling him he had the wrong person, but he kept saying I was going to the ‘big house’ and I was going to get a ‘felony,’ ” Thomas told me.

Suzette Porter, a counselor at Marshall High School, said she’s known Thomas since his freshman year.

“Some kids I know are going to have a struggle. But there are some kids that just have potential. Tremel has a lot of potential,” Porter said, pointing out he belongs to a group devoted to scholars.

“I can attest to his character. But there’s a lot of risk here. This could alter his whole future.”

If convicted of a felony, Thomas would not qualify for financial aid, and college scholarships would likely disappear.

For now, the teen’s employer is allowing him to keep his job while he fights the criminal charges.

But Cook County has a reputation for wrongfully convicting poor people, and that worries me.

In fact, Wilson had to go to relatives for the $1,000 to bail her son out of Cook County Jail.

Now, there’s no money to hire a private attorney.

“He shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place,” the mother complained.

“He is one of the top students at Marshall. He plays football, baseball and runs track. He’s only off work for one day a week. He didn’t have time to get in trouble.”

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST



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