IF THE PRESIDENTIAL candidates of both parties want to enliven their debates, they might talk about what they'll do about Jawon.
Jawon, 14, lives on the West Side of Chicago. No permanent address. He and his fellow gang members pick out an abandoned building and call it home.
The cops assume that his source of income is crime. Theft, extortion, maybe drug errands for older gang members. He can barely read or write and doesn't attend school, but he has street smarts.
Lately, he has been showing up around the Herbert Elementary School, 2131 W. Monroe St. But not to learn. Just the opposite. He teaches young kids how to join the gang, what hand signals and gang colors to wear to avoid being shot.
Kids are valuable to gangs. Because of their age, they can shoot someone or run drugs or pull a stickup and get a lighter rap.
Jawon has already learned to handle a gun. He's currently awaiting a hearing for wounding another boy in the face during a gang dispute.
And he can drive a car. Not only drive it but bust in, hot wire the ignition, tear out the radio, and go joy riding.
The police got him for that, too, after he and his pals stole a car belonging to a teacher at the Herbert school. They wouldn't have been caught if they hadn't smashed into another car, injuring a couple of people.
All that, and he's still seven years short of being able to legally buy a beer. But there's more.
Recently, a boy's sports jacket was stolen at the school. Jackets are a serious matter. Kids are gunned down for not surrendering them.
When the parents complained to the principal, the suspects were gathered in the school office. One was Jawon's cousin, who brought Jawon along for moral support.
The principal describes the office meeting:
"I had nine boys in there and the mother of the kid whose jacket was stolen, and I was questioning them. Then I left the room to call in another boy.
"Before I came back, the mother told me that Jawon was intimidating the kids right in front of her.
"His cousin had taken the jacket. We later found out that he had stolen it for Jawon. So Jawon told them: 'You better say that he didn't do it or I'm going to get a Uzi and blow you away.' "
If a 14-year-old in a prep school says he is going to blow you away with an automatic weapon, you might chuckle. But on the West Side and other city neighborhoods like it, there are probably 100 automatic weapons for every tennis racket.
"So I went back in and I told Jawon he had to leave," the principal says. "He wouldn't. I told him I was ordering him out. He got out of his seat and started swearing at the kids and threatening them.
"I got up and he starts throwing punches at me. I finally got him off me and out of the office, but as he left, he was swearing and he said he'd be back to blow me away."
There was a time when the principal might have called Jawon's parents in to discuss the boy's behavior. But nobody knows where Jawon's parents are. Maybe Jawon doesn't.
So the principal called the police and filed aggravated battery charges.
That made three criminal charges against Jawon: the earlier shooting of the other kid, which was still pending; the theft of the teacher's car; and the assault on the principal.
When they went to court, the judge continued the case and ordered Jawon to stay away from the school and not to bother the principal or anyone else. The probation officer (Jawon's on probation for the car theft) was told to report any bad behavior.
Jawon nodded and went back to the street, where he will roam until sometime in March when another hearing will be held. Unless he kills someone before then.
That thought has crossed the principal's mind, who was more than a bit upset when Jawon was set free.
"I have to say to you I'm a little angry. No, a lot angry. There's nothing to prevent him from getting a gun and blowing me away. The judge told Jawon that he doesn't want him near the school. What are they going to do if he doesn't obey?
"What's this telling the kid? That he can do anything he wants. It will continue until he murders someone. He's already shown that he has access to guns and that he's willing to use one.
"One of my jobs is protecting my students from gang activity. I can't even protect myself. How am I supposed to protect the kids?
"If he comes around and I call the police, what am I going to charge him with -- trespassing? Hell, he shot a kid in the face and he's on the streets. Are they going to put him away for trespassing?"
Questions, questions. And who has the answers? We have a kid of 14, no parents, living the gang life. No skills or prospects other than crime. And there are thousands like him.
Is there anything in the president's crime package about that? Not that I've noticed.
A principal fears death. And he's not the only one. What do the candidates propose to do about that sort of educational environment?
An adolescent says he'll get a Uzi. He just might. The gangs now consider a six-shooter an antique. What will the candidates do to keep military hardware out of the hands of the Jawons?
You can rap the judge. But we have a national surplus of young criminals and a shortage of cells. Shall we build more prisons? Sure, and what will you say when the tax bill comes?
Yes, you could devote a debate to Jawon. Or even a State of the Union speech. The silence would be deafening.