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The Hidden Details in a Teen's Death

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

The fatal shooting of a 17-year-old youth on the streets of the nation's capital gets a two-sentence mention buried in a lengthy April 25 news-in-brief column in Metro, while a panda's colonoscopy at the National Zoo warrants a 240-word story and photograph on Metro's May 2 front page.

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I don't wish to take anything away from the panda. But doesn't the murder of a District youth deserve a tad more?

This question is not only for the media. How does the community feel? Is there any interest in learning how and why Kwanzaa Diggs, 17, was shot multiple times in the 900 block of Barnaby Street SE on April 24?

Does anyone care?

Diggs is now history, an untold story consigned to the newspaper's morgue. But quiet as some may want the following fact to be kept, Kwanzaa Diggs was once a ward of the D.C. government.

No one will 'fess up, of course. The law allows bureaucrats to conceal such information in the name of protecting the child.

Led by an insider's tip, I asked the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services whether the late Mr. Diggs had been under its supervision. I got this reply from public information officer Reggie Sanders yesterday: "We are prohibited by law on [sic] commenting on individual cases. In regards to DYRS-committed youth who have been killed this year, there has been one (1)."

D.C. Superior Court spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz said much the same in an e-mail: "Because this young man . . . has been identified in the paper, we do not feel it appropriate to provide information relating to any contact he may have had with our Family Court."

My direct appeal to Chief Judge Lee Satterfield elicited empathy but little more. Wrote Satterfield: "I truly share your concerns about the importance of the community understanding and being informed about what happened to Mr. Diggs and any role that the juvenile justice system had in the life of Mr. Diggs who was tragically killed."

I suggested in my appeal that confidentiality laws can be used to shield government from public scrutiny. Satterfield said: "I also believe that a little 'sunshine' into the juvenile justice system may have a positive impact on the system." However, he added, he was constrained by law from providing information about Diggs.

Such sentiment, fortunately, is not universal.

This week, I spoke twice with Sidi N. Bojang, a social worker and 18-year DYRS veteran who said he had been Diggs's case manager at the Oak Hill Youth Center. Diggs was committed there in June 2008 by Superior Court Judge Zoe Bush after he was adjudicated (convicted) for robbery, Bojang said.


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