If you believe in the maxim that "time heals all wounds," then this event at Malcom X College on NBA All-Star Weekend, was exhibit A. There were five men on stage: an actor/rapper who is halfway to an EGOT (winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony), a former Secretary of Education, a man who went away for committing murder and the two brothers of the man he killed.
Arne Duncan and Common co-moderated a special screening event of the forthcoming documentary, “Both Sides of the Gun: A Story of Reconciliation." Ben Wilson 's brothers and his killer told their stories of that tragic day, November 20, 1984 in a story of reconciliation, forgiveness and healing. Ben Wilson, 17, rated the number one prep basketball player out of Chicago’s Simeon High School, was gunned down senselessly in midday, the trigger pulled by 16-year-old Billy Moore.
On stage, the Wilson brothers forgave Moore and embraced him as their new brother. They also made a shocking revelation, breaking news regarding a homicide that occurred 35 years ago.
"This is the story that has never been told, but I'm going to tell you now 35 years later," Anthony Wilson said.
"Benji could have survived, but they (first responders) labeled him a gang member. St. Bernard hospital said 'This is just another gang banger, put him in the corner,' and didn't initially give him oxygen or an IV."
The story of Ben Wilson has been told many times, even by an ESPN 30 for 30 and a Comcast SportsNet documentary, but neither film told the story that Anthony Wilson articulated.
After his death, Wilson's family sued the Chicago Fire Department and St. Bernard. He shot at 12:37 p.m., wasn’t taken to the hospital until 1:20 p.m. and didn’t go into surgery until 3:14 p.m, according to the suit.
According to a Chicago Tribune flashback piece published on the 35th anniversary of the deadly altercation: "At the time, people suffering from traumatic injuries were taken to the nearest hospital, not the nearest trauma center. Wilson’s shooting changed that."
And while that change for the better was made in the wake of the tragedy, it took much longer for other needed changes to be made.
"What is the clearance rate for homicides in the city of Chicago? 17%," said Moore.
"So that means 83% of the people who kill somebody don't get arrested. For non-black and brown people, the clearance rate is 43%. The victim is no different in black and brown communities. They sent him to a hospital without a trauma unit. He sat for two hours bleeding, internally."
"As a result there was nothing they could do for the young man. We just got a trauma center on the South Side of Chicago only within the last year."
By the way "clearance rate" is calculated by dividing the number of crimes that are "cleared" (a charge being laid) by the total number of crimes recorded. Clearance rates are used by various groups as a measure of crimes solved.
The South Side's first trauma center didn't open until May of 2018, at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park.
Even after he was shot, Ben Wilson still could have been saved, and he was a young man destined to do great things. Set to choose between Illinois, Indiana and DePaul, he might have been part of the Hoosiers' 1987 national title winning team. Maybe the two Blue Demons teams that reached the Sweet 16 in 1986 and 1987 could have reached the Final Four?
Had he played for Lou Henson, perhaps the '89 Flyin' Illini Final Four team might have won it all?
"He was Kevin Durant before there was Durant, Lebron James before there was Lebron, and he could have given Michael Jordan a run for his money," said Charles Johnson, Founder of Ideal Concepts Group, as he opened the panel.
Wilson skyrocketed his way to the top of the rankings after impressing at the AFBE (Athletes for Better Education) camp in the summer of 1984. He had planned on making his college choice the following April. It was tradition for Simeon's best player, each season, to wear his #25 until the school retired it.
So how did his family come to forgive Moore? How did they reach this point, which many would argue is the greatest level of forgiveness that a human being can reach. Asked about what he was thinking when he first met Moore, Anthony Wilson recalled a conversation he had with his mother while she was on her death bed.
"My mother was on my mind," Wilson said.
"My mother told me, on her death bed, there are two things I want you to do- keep the faith I've given you, and I want you to meet the man that took Benji's life, and let him know that I forgive him."
"On your death bed mom, this is what you choose to talk to me about? There are a million other things we can talk about. At the moment that Billy walked into the room I could hear my mother's voice say 'you have to forgive this man.'
Now I didn't have to, but I had to come to this point on why I have to forgive him. Everyday someone loses their life, because of revenge."
Of the clips from the documentary shown on stage, two scenes stand out as the most gripping. The first involves Benji's brother taking the actual bullet, and placing it on the table directly in front of Moore. It was at that moment that Wilson's family let go, and finally reached closure.
"Watching that happen in real time, I got goose bumps," said Duncan.
"No one could figure out what to do with the bullet, Billy didn't want to touch it, I threw it in a glass of water on the table. The bullet was very symbolic- that was the anger and hatred he carried his whole life."
"He thought often of using that bullet, but something inside him didn't allow him to do that."
"To put that away is an extraordinary act of forgiveness that I can't say I'd be capable of if my brother or sister were killed."
Moore refused to accept the bullet, and to this day he has never visited Ben Wilson's grave site.
Later in life, Moore lost his son to gun violence, and on stage Jeffrey Wilson said "We sympathize with his losing a son. We know Mr. Moore is a good man."
Which brings us to the second scene which many people in attendance that day found to be the most moving of all. The Wilson brothers tell Moore that he is now their brother, how he has replaced Benji as their sibling.
"To me that was the most powerful point, beyond the bullet," said Johnson, whose home provided the backdrop for the entire documentary.
"That was the turning point that allowed Benji's legacy to live through the person who took his life. It's really astonishing."
On stage, Moore claimed that through all the media coverage of this very high profile murder case, no one actually took the time to ask him why he did it. He says that instead of trying to determine the motive, they simply labeled him a gang banger.
After the panel, he met with the media and detailed the altercation, saying he just reacted in the moment, a moment he felt he was being bullied, and refused to stand down. He says the entire fatal altercation took place in just three minutes.
"It's definitely not a wise decision for a 16-year-old to be carrying a gun, but unfortunately so many 16-year-olds in Chicago are carrying a gun," said Moore.
"When you carry a gun, you get gun problems. You tend to deal with things differently with a gun, then you would without a gun, and unfortunately, having a gun resulted in the worst mistake ever for myself and also cost Benji his life."
"It was just an argument that went bad, it wasn't a robbery, he wasn't standing down and I wasn't standing down, and unfortunately, not knowing how to resolve conflict in a peaceful way, it resulted in a loss of life."
Moore added that before he fired the weapon he first unzipped his vest to convey to Wilson that he was armed, hoping it would be enough to scare him off and diffuse the situation. Obviously, it didn't.
Today the City of Chicago continues to be plagued by gun violence, with homicide rates that are consistently well above the national average. The main goal of Thursday's event was to help promote the idea that reconciliation, not retaliation, is the way to break the endless circle of violence.
Common did not make himself available to media, but he did elicit a very favorable reaction from the crowd when he busted a socially conscious rap verse, which can be viewed below:
Our nation's epidemic of gun violence, and what could be done to try and go about solving it, is the most written about topic on this this website, by a wide margin. If you're looking to get involved and want to try and help, go to this link and this one for more resources.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry," regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the "Let's Get Weird, Sports" podcast on SB Nation.
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