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In D.C., Deadly Youth Violence Is Reduced to 'Anecdotes'

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By Colbert I. King
Saturday, February 21, 2009

Seventeen-year-old Diedrick R. Johnson faces a maximum statutory penalty of 75 years when he goes to court for sentencing on June 12.

The successful prosecution of Johnson was praised by the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in a Feb. 13 press release. Indeed, D.C. detectives and assistant U.S. attorneys put together a case strong enough to get Johnson convicted as an adult.

You may have missed his guilty plea. A two-sentence notice appeared on Page B3 of The Post's Metro section last Saturday.

Maybe that's all the play it deserved.

After all, much has already been written about Johnson, including two columns I wrote a year ago. ["A Teen Released, Nine People Shot. Why?," Feb 2, 2008; "Who Couldn't Find Diedrick Johnson?," Feb. 16, 2008.] All that needed to be said about him has been said, so, you might ask, why devote precious space to a story already told?

After all, there's no way to undo what was done on Jan. 11, 2008, when Johnson fired a .40-caliber handgun at a group of teenagers walking down the street, striking five, including one teen who still has a bullet lodged in his chest.

It's also impossible to undo his Jan. 22, 2008, firing of a .380-caliber handgun multiple times into a crowd of Ballou High School students. In that case, four students -- all of them innocent individuals walking home from school -- were struck. One of them still has a bullet lodged in his back.

Why another story about Diedrick Johnson when there are so many other more pressing things to write about -- the failing economy, Roland Burris's brain cramp, the New York Post's dead-chimp cartoon?

Yet another tale about the city's juvenile justice system?

Well, yes, but with a twist.

Diedrick Johnson's story has been told over and over in this space, with different names but with the same essential facts: A D.C. youth in trouble with the law is put into the city's custody by a court, only to be released back into the community, and, while he is on the streets under the city's supervision, the youth either commits or becomes the victim of a crime.

Except that this column will end in a way the others did not.


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