Last year was the deadliest in Baltimore since 1993, with 343 people killed. On Dec. 18th, my friend, Jonathan Tobash — “John” or “Johnny” to those of us who knew him — became No. 335 when he chanced upon a robbery on his way to the store.
He was shot multiple times — murdered seven days before Christmas, 13 days before the new year. He should have lived long enough to grow wrinkled and gray, have a family, a career. But he died 15 days before his 20th birthday, which came and went on Wednesday. He will forever be 19.
When I met Johnny during my freshman year at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, my first thought was that he was handsome. And he was, but he was also much more than a pretty face. He always greeted me with a friendly smile and a hug, and, when he had time, asked me about my day. Me — a freshman feeling isolated in a new school. Johnny genuinely cared about people; he had the ability to make your day just by being himself.
At Poly, he played rugby and participated in the JROTC program. He played basketball and video games for fun and made a strong impression on his teachers, who described him as smart and positive. He landed an internship at Whiting-Turner during his senior year and attended Morgan State University to study industrial engineering after graduation. He was a sophomore there. He had a future.
His family and his friends remember him as funny, goofy, compassionate and thoughtful. He cared for his grandmother in her final months and always watched over his sister even though he was the younger sibling. The thug life was never a part of his world, which makes his death that much harder to comprehend.
His murder is a tragedy for all of us — his family, his friends, the entire city. Baltimore has lost another promising young man to senseless gun violence. A close friend of his told me that John “wanted his name to be remembered for something he did,” something he achieved, and for his name to “stand for something when people said it.”
And it should. It does for me. I’m writing this to make sure it does for you, too.
For many people, the first time they saw or heard John’s name was in a news account of his death. They may have paused for a moment, shook their head at the senselessness of his death and moved on. I can’t let that be the end for John, though.
He deserves more, a legacy based on his life, not just his death.
The 335th homicide of 2017 in Baltimore city is not just a statistic, he is a person. He is a son, a brother, a friend, a student. And while we mourn his loss, as a city we also must learn from it.
A new movement toward change would honor his life more than any article, photo or social media post can. His existence, and that of the many other young men lost to gun violence, must spark an end to violence within our city. As a community, it is essential to unify and to uplift one another, to begin the process of healing by refusing to do any more hurting.
John deserves that. We all do.
Keombré McLaughlin is a journalism major at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.