Seattle Courant Archive

Separately, we can't save anyone

Separately, we can't save anyone

By Danny Westneat
November 17, 2008

Why are kids getting killed? Who could have stopped it? Where were the cops, the social workers? What about the parents? The friends?

"It's a nightmare," says Lachow. "Quincy was the most curious, most generous kid I've ever met. But there was something about that life that got him. He was just in it, and he wasn't going to stop.

"I'm not sure anybody could have saved him."

Lachow, a Garfield senior, says his friend Coleman, 15, was in a Madison Valley street gang called Valley Hood Pirus (pronounced pie-roos, from Piru Street in Compton, Calif., where the first Bloods gang formed in the 1970s).

What being in that gang meant is not clear. Was it a hard-core criminal enterprise? Or a group of wannabe kids who think gangsters are cool?

It's a distinction that proved murky to some who knew the gregarious Coleman.

There are pictures on the Internet of him making gang hand signs and posing with hundred-dollar bills fanned out like playing cards. He shows off his drug stash. One photo that doesn't show his face appears to be a picture of him — or someone — holding a gun.

On one level the photos are shocking. Some have been up on his MySpace page for more than a year. What kind of society is this when a teenager posts public pictures of himself with drugs or maybe even a gun, and gets no reaction?

But on another level the photos are confusing. He's baby-faced, in braces. The poses are cartoonish. It feels like he's pretending to be a gangbanger.


Sure enough, people didn't take the photos seriously. In one, he holds up money and tries to look tough while a friend flashes a gang sign. But a female commenter isn't buying it: "Quincy u still look like a lil boiii."

His sister, Mila Coleman, 23, says it was at least part fantasy.

"He probably wanted to be in a gang, I won't lie to you about that," she said. "But please — he's being made out in the paper to be some hardened street criminal. He was just a little kid. And he was a good kid."

Mila, who manages a cellphone store, said her family feels blamed for Quincy's death. People see the photos or hear of his all-too-real rap sheet — burglary, selling drugs — and the number-one question is: Where were the parents?

Quincy's mom was beleaguered by all the trouble he got into, Mila said. So she tried tough love, grounding him at times, banning him from parties and enforcing a 9 p.m. curfew. He was killed at 8:30 p.m. on Halloween night.

"She tried so hard," Mila Coleman said. "But in the end you cannot stop a teenager, a 15-year-old, from doing what they're going to do."

When he was 13, Quincy bought a gun from a 15-year-old for $100. Police say that moment ought to have clanged alarm bells throughout the system.

"When did anyone come together after that report — a 13-year-old buying a gun — to say: What are we going to do to get this kid back on track?" says John Hayes, director of community relations for the Seattle police. "I'm including my own department in that. Did we have an officer visit the home? That's the level of work we all need to be doing here."

Sam Lachow said he was shocked that a King County judge let Quincy go in September after he had pleaded guilty to burglary and selling pot and rock cocaine.

"How could you get caught for all that and have nothing happen to you? I mean nothing," Lachow said. "He obviously wasn't going to stop if nobody made him stop."

But Lachow says he never said much, either. Including after he learned Quincy had a gun. He found his friend so endearing, and street-wise, that it didn't occur to him Quincy's lifestyle might be fatal.

Quincy would come up to Lachow's Capitol Hill apartment and rap for Lachow's band, ShankBone. Lachow, who is off to college next year in New York, describes Quincy as practically a visitor from another planet.

"It was like he had his gang friends, and then he had us, his white-boy friends," Lachow said. "He didn't bring the gang side in here much. He seemed relieved to be away from it.

"It was like he was living in two worlds that didn't meet."

Worlds that don't meet. There's plenty of blame to go around — most obviously to the shooter, who hasn't been caught. But isn't worlds not meeting a big part of this problem? Parents and teens. Rich Seattle and poor Seattle. Cops and civilians. Fantasy and a cold, dead reality.

Who might have saved Quincy Coleman is not a moot question. That's clear from the forums posted around the Web mourning his death.

"ima get em for ya, q," vows one message.

"V.H.P. (for Valley Hood Pirus)," says another. "A soldier has fallen but another will be reborn."

Who can save whoever's next?

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or