Bittersweet 16

By the time Isaac Mobley turned 16, he was running scared. He hated riding the bus and wanted to transfer out of his high school, his mother, Patricia Wilson, recalls.

Mobley’s biggest fear was the local gangs, which seemed inescapable. It wasn’t all in his mind, his drill-team master, James Crafton, said. “Where he lived it was all gang territory,” said Crafton, who recruited Mobley to the New Generation Fancy Drill Team when Mobley was 11.

Even after moving out of his mom’s Altgeld Gardens apartment in the Riverdale community area and into his grandfather’s house on a quiet block in Jeffrey Manor, in the South Deering community, Isaac was tense. Getting to Hyde Park High School meant crossing several gang lines. One morning, he was jumped by a group of teens while getting off a bus.

Mobley withdrew from the school and reluctantly gave up his spot on the football team. He transferred to an alternative school, Sullivan House, which was closer to his grandfather. It seemed safer, but just in case, he picked up a .380 caliber pistol for protection.

He adjusted well at the new school, his grades were good and he managed to keep up with the drill team, which met 20 hours a week. His behavior was so exemplary that his teachers gave him a model citizen award.

It’s unclear how long Mobley had the gun before school officials found it in his locker on Feb. 15, 2008.

Police charged him with unlawful use of a weapon on school grounds. That’s one of 21 statutes that are on the books in Illinois to send minors age 16 or younger to adult felony court. Mobley was just one of 553 Cook County teens whose cases were transferred under the statutes, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis of court records dating back to January 2006.

With what came across as a tinge of regret, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Gaughan said, “Mr. Mobley, it is just very unfortunate this stuff is happening,” as he handed the 16-year-old an adult felony conviction in April 2008, sentencing him to a year behind bars. That year accounted for just one of the 2,168 years of detention time that 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds in Cook County have been sentenced to since 2006.

“I know the streets are dangerous,” Gaughan added. “You have to get that through your head, no matter how dangerous it is out there. –¦ You are going to be able to adapt without having the weapons. Otherwise, you are going to keep getting hurt.”

Mobley served two months at the Illinois Youth Center-St. Charles before getting released. He moved back in with his mom, re-enrolled in school and five months later was shot to death while walking to a birthday party.

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