CHICAGO — Monday would have been Ben Wilson's 18th birthday, but instead of a party, friends of the slain high school basketball star plan to give city officials petitions seeking a ban on handguns.
Wilson was fatally shot Nov. 20 as he walked with his girlfriend near Simeon Vocational High School. Police said he apparently bumped into two gang members on a sidewalk; two 16-year-olds have pleaded innocent after being charged with murder and await trial.
In Wilson's memory, 1,800 Simeon students have signed petitions asking Mayor Harold Washington and the City Council to ban handgun possession.
"Almost everybody here feels the same," said student Stephanie Sherrer, 16. "Older people want guns for protection, but younger people--people like Ben--keep getting shot by guns."
Wilson's mother, Mary Wilson, was the guest of honor Friday night at a downtown fund-raising dinner for her Ben Wilson Foundation, which has a goal of raising $200,000 to combat gang activities by offering such alternatives as sports, summer camps and scholarships.
About 400 people paid $50 each to attend.
"We have done a tremendous disservice to our children," said Washington, who sat with Mrs. Wilson at the dinner. "We have not heard their screams in the night. We have lost touch with them. We have assumed they could raise themselves in a world they didn't make and can't control."
In a telephone interview Saturday, Mrs. Wilson said her opposition to handguns "goes back before Benjy was born." She said that when two of her children attended Hirsch High School they were subjected to gang intimidation and one suggested getting a gun to protect himself.
She said she talked him out of it, explaining that "nothing good could come of it."
The initial sharp grief of her son's slaying is gone now, Mrs. Wilson said, but the ache lingers. One of her biggest challenges, she said, came when she attended a Simeon basketball game and had to watch the team run out without its star--her son.
"A sadness comes over me," she told the audience at the dinner. "But when I think of the 17 years he was with me, I'm proud and happy, and I say, 'Happy birthday, Benjy."'