Gang shootings stun Los Angeles (FCN, 03-20-2008)

Mourners, including Black and Latino members of the Los Angeles High School football team pay their respects at the funeral of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw who was shot and killed March 2 by a gang member in Los Angeles. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Herb Wesson (far rear right) view the ceremony. Photo: Malcolm Shabazz

LOS ANGELES ( – Thousands of relatives, friends, teammates, politicians and community leaders commemorated the life of Jamiel Andre Shaw II (Jas) during a March 11 memorial service at the West Angeles Cathedral. The 17-year-old was allegedly shot and killed by a Latino gang member on March 2, just doors from his family home.

Police have arrested 19-year-old Pedro Espinoza and charged him with capital murder. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, Mr. Espinoza was freed from jail the day before he allegedly shot the popular football athlete.


During the memorial service, family members, including Jamiel’s uncle Dr. Hozell C. Francis, who gave the eulogy, remembered a young man who excelled in anything he touched, not just athletics. He was a leader and a unifier, they said, an excellent role model for his brother and numerous cousins, and a God-fearing and loving young man.

‘This is bigger than my son’

The scene inside the cathedral reflected a crisis experienced in almost every major American city, especially in urban areas. Jamiel’s father and mother, Jamiel Shaw, Sr. and Anita Shaw, escorted nine-year-old son Thomas for a last viewing of their son’s body. They struggled with grief throughout the memorial, Mr. Shaw oft times burying his head into a black handkerchief.

Ms. Shaw spent time comforting Thomas. At various times, she lifted her arms to praise God during songs. Other times, she wept and nodded her head, affirming the various speakers’ testaments about her son, his dreams, and what must be done to stop gang members from killing innocent babies.

Mr. Shaw said he is upset and angry his son was murdered, but feels it is his job to help end confusion, tension and rhetoric between Black and Brown communities. He asked gang members to stop killing for the sake of children. “When you have to live in a neighborhood that’s not plagued by gangs, but has gangs in it, you realize that sometimes you’re just powerless, because your kids have to go to school, the ice cream truck, the store … we have to exist,” he said.

Black, Latino youth mourn a friend

Mr. Shaw admonished everyone to address why youth join gangs to avoid more deaths. “This is bigger than my son and all of us, but this is our chance to make a difference and make his life mean something. He’s not the first one to die from gang violence, but each person has to look in their hearts, go around their neighborhood and help raise these kids,” he said.

Rev. Dr. Francis said the family established the Jamiel Shaw Family Fund to complete the father and son’s 18-year-plan for success that was cut short less than a year from fruition. It will be used to promote gang prevention and intervention and create youth development programs.

Jamiel’s friends were male and female, some members of the Los Angeles High School football team, and a diverse group of youth– Black, Latino, Caucasian and Asian– one grieving no more or no less than the other.

But an extension of this tragedy was the fear written on the faces of the youth, that they would be the next ones gunned down by gang violence; and expressions of hope that the adults would stop the killing.

“I have mixed emotions with this, because 80 percent of most murders in the inner cities are not even solved,” said Tony Muhammad, of Muhammad Mosque No. 27 in Los Angeles, referring to the police capture of one of two men who allegedly pulled up to Jamiel before shooting him.

“The city government is lying to the citizens. Mayor Villaraigosa and Chief Bratton have national political aspirations and do not want a race war on their watch,” Mr. Muhammad charged. “This is not simply a gang issue. This is not politics for us, this is everyday life.”

Police have to be vigilant in bringing Jamiel’s true killer to justice and people cannot relax because they have arrested a person that “fits the description,” he added. “How did they solve this so quick? To announce this on the day of the funeral is a bunch of bull crap and a year from now when this goes to trial, people will have forgotten about Jamiel Shaw. We cannot celebrate the capture of a suspect, and not get elated until the real killer is actually convicted,” Mr. Muhammad said.

He encouraged Black and Brown communities to enter into dialogue like civilized nations and destroy myths, rumors and gossip that is raising tension. What is not a myth, he said, is that unless God intervenes, a lot of people will suffer, gang-affiliated or not.

Blacks angry over killings

At a Cease Fire Committee meeting on March 12, participants discussed ways to address the growing concern and anger within the Black community over the killings. Some Blacks believe the problem is gang vs. gang, however, according to talk radio shows, talks in schools and on the streets, many Blacks feel that Latinos do hate them. Despite differing opinions about the reason for the surge in Black children shot or killed by Latino gang members, there is the consensus that the Black community needs to protect itself and children.

LAPD Chief William Bratton has repeatedly said the violence is not race-related and continues his call for more police. The recent rash of killings took place as Chief Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held an international gang summit.

They announced the opening of the National Counter-Terrorism Academy on March 10, which will give state and local law enforcement training to students from public agencies and private companies. According to reports, it is a public-private pilot program between the LAPD and the Center for Policing Terrorism at the Manhattan Institute.

Chief Bratton was highly criticized for previously calling gang members “thugs” and “terrorists.”

During his statements to the memorial congregation, Mayor Villaraigosa recalled that with Jamiel and his father, he had planted a tree of hope to revitalize the Arlington Heights neighborhood. The tree stands just a few feet away from the site where Jamiel died.

“There’s no making sense of loss that is senseless; no searching for reason in a tragedy void of rationality or mercy. I don’t think that’s what Jamiel would expect from us today. I think he’d tell us we have to offer more than words of remembrance,” Mayor Villaraigosa said.

In November, Mayor Villaraigosa launched the Community Law Enforcement and Recovery (CLEAR) facility in the Baldwin Village neighborhood, which it says suffers from some of the highest rates in the city. The inter-agency effort uses funding and manpower to help ease gang violence through prevention, intervention and law enforcement.

Rev. Jeff Carr is the L.A. gang czar and head of CLEAR. The Final Call has made at least five requests for interviews to determine his strategy to solve the surge in gang violence, especially against children who are not gang affiliated. Gabriela Saravia, his assistant, told The Final Call he is aware of the calls, but has numerous interview requests and was recently traveling.

Meanwhile, Black and Brown residents search for answers. Mr. Muhammad said one solution is unity on the basis of community and righteousness, not gang banging and drug dealing. But perceived or reality, he said, there is a race problem in L.A. and people believe city officials are trying to avoid the issue.