When renowned Chicago funeral singer Trishaun Coleman lost her cousin to gun violence this summer — the 12th murder of a good friend in the past six years — it was so much to bear she almost didn’t turn up to his memorial service. But finally, the 21-year-old arrived late and offered her extraordinary voice in tribute to the young man she was in constant contact with until he was shot repeatedly on the street near her home in South Chicago.
“I didn’t want to sing at any more funerals but unfortunately one of my very close cousins was killed June 10th,” Coleman tells Women in the World. “It was on the same spot where my boyfriend was killed [in 2012] — a block away from my house.
“Everyone was out there and a boy from the neighborhood walked up to my cousin and asked him for change. When my cousin reached down to get the money he just shot him up and riddled his body with bullets. He would have been 27 in November … I know the person [who did it].
Coleman, who performed Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to a rapt audience at the Women in the World New York Summit in April, alongside a panel of mothers united in fighting gun violence, sang a Whitney Houston song “I Look to You” at her cousin’s funeral.
“This one was really hard. Because this wasn’t just one of those family members who came around once in a while. I saw him every day. I was with him every day. If he was feeling sad he would call me at one o’clock or 2 o’clock in the morning and be like ‘I need to talk to you Trish’.
“I actually wasn’t going to show up. I came late because I didn’t know how to do it…I didn’t want to say goodbye and I didn’t finish the song. It was different from all of the others.”
Saddened and weary of constantly looking backwards and remembering lives cut way too short, Coleman has decided to move on from her fine arts studies and funeral singing to become a police officer.
Receiving the good news she had passed the test to join the force — all that remains is her fitness exam and background check before she enters the Police Academy — has, however, not overjoyed her family and community. They are worried she is entering a dangerous profession and joining an institution that inspires little trust in gang and gun violence-riddled South Chicago amid national protests in support of black lives destroyed by police brutality.
“My family doesn’t want me to do it because they don’t think the job is safe for me but…I’m pretty sure these officers aren’t just waking up wanting to harm someone or end someone’s life.
“I want to get in there and initiate change and be a part of the change: because I’ve been talking about it for a while and talking just isn’t going to change anything … I want to be part of the percentage that steps up and helps save a life.”
The South Chicago resident cites a recent news report that some gangs were rallying against the police and planning to harm or kill or hurt officers whenever they saw them.
“So my family are real scared of that. Plus, where I grew up there’s always been not hate, but a dislike of police officers because of the history in the neighborhood with them.”
Only one of the dozen murders of Coleman’s friends in recent years has occurred at the hands of police. Roemello Golden was 17 and Coleman’s boyfriend when he was murdered four years ago, in circumstances disturbingly similar to her cousin’s killing this past summer. Another 17-year-old called Keon Toliver, a childhood friend, walked up to the young boy, shook his hand and shot him 11 times with an automatic pistol.
The repetitiveness and escalation of violence has scarred Coleman who fears standing outside her house even in the balmy Chicago summer nights, or just spending time chatting with friends on the street.
“I’m trying to leave as soon as I can. I want to do school but this will be my last semester. It’s so hard living here because there is so much going on.”
Down from Coleman’s house a woman who had only recently moved to the area was killed when someone drove up and shot her in an apparent case of mistaken identity.
“I’m 21. I don’t want to be the next victim for people to talk about what Trish could have been. I want to live it first.”
The increase in circulation of deadly arms also alarms Coleman, who says she has seen young boys she knows uploading photos of assault weapons to their Facebook pages.
“It’s like how are these young boys, young African-American boys in basically the ‘hood getting a hold of these guns? They don’t really have money at all. They don’t have vehicles to get equipped with these guns so where are they coming from? We have to get to the bottom of this first because I really don’t know how they’re gaining access to all of these guns.”
The aspiring police officer believes the shootings and arms trafficking has only worsened over the past six or seven years.
“Before I stand on my front porch at 3 o’clock in the morning in summer.
“I want to have a good time but I’m afraid because it seems like they’re shooting all the time and happens to be on the block where I live. People looking for drama they will come and mess with those people. I don’t stand outside or stand around talking. Because that’s dangerous.
“I was just telling my boyfriend I want to just sit on a car and talk, you know the simple things. We can do them but it’s a lot of risk because they’re shooting every day.”
Still, Coleman doesn’t see blue and white officers patrolling a lot.
“I see the protective cars patrolling…but they don’t come unless someone’s been shot. Even if they come from our communities, once they start patrolling the areas where I live now they act like they’re on higher ground. They could reach out more to the community. Maybe we should see a lot more officers who come from a place like where I come from.
“It’s not impossible. You can’t save everyone, but I will feel better with myself if I can save more than a couple of people.”