October 29, 2004

After Execution-Style Murder of 14-Year-Old, Community Demands Response

(Editor’s Note: National City has a choice to spend more money on more police via Prop. S. The following article is one communities response to more money for more police.)

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

LOS ANGELES—The brutal execution style murder of 14-year-old Byron Lee has ignited a firestorm of rage and action in Los Angeles. But while the community demands programs to tackle root causes of violence, city officials have gone in the opposite direction.

Lee was shot 19 times by unknown assailants as he pleaded for his life. Hundreds of residents instantly took to the streets and held candlelight vigils, marches and protest rallies. They demanded that city officials provide more jobs, recreation and gang intervention programs for community youths. City officials vowed at a press conference to catch the killers, and offered a reward for information leading to their capture. But they did not offer any long-term solutions. They urge voters to pass a half-cent sales tax that appears on the November ballot, and to hire hundreds more police. Only a scant amount of the millions that the measure would raise is earmarked for prevention programs.

The shocking killing has done much to reinforce Los Angeles’ reputation as the gang capitol of America. There are dozens of identifiable gangs in the city, and much of the violence has been traced to rival gangs jockeying for turf control. Gangs will terrorize residents and commit senseless murders to imprint their name on neighborhoods. Lee may well have been a victim of that deadly turf jockeying.

Police and city officials have tried to curb the carnage by packing more gang members into jail cells through gang injunctions, and more arrests, prosecutions, and stiffer prison sentences. But that’s a knee-jerk reaction to residents’ demands for tougher police action. The hard reality is that with near double-digit joblessness among young blacks, continued high dropout rates and slashes in skills training, recreation and gang prevention programs, the surge in violence could get worse.

“We need more youth jobs,” says Dawn Bruce, a peace vigil participant whose brother was killed a year ago in the same neighborhood. “They’re doing things because they have no money.”

Brenda Williams, a former LAPD officer and neighborhood resident, agrees. “You can’t stop the violence if you’re not investing in non-violent activities, and that’s what we have to encourage.”

Many of those who tuck guns in their waistbands and shoot-up their neighborhoods hardly flinch at the prospect of doing a long stretch in prison if caught. They have no fear of jail or death, or of being universally reviled as cowards, predators and, of late, “urban terrorists.”

Many have become especially adept at acting out their frustrations at white society’s denial of their “manhood” by adopting an exaggerated “tough guy” role. The accessibility of drugs and guns, and the influence of misogynist, violent-laced rap songs also reinforce the deep feeling among many youths that life is cheap, and there will be minimal consequences for their actions as long as their victims are other young urban blacks or Latinos.

The other powerful ingredient in the deadly mix of black and Latino violence is the drug plague. Drug trafficking not only provides illicit profits but also makes the gun play even more widespread.

Community residents are continuing to press city officials to drastically increase funds for violence prevention and gang intervention programs. They demand the city call an emergency summit and bring together educators, health professionals, drug counselors, and gang intervention activists to devise and provide the crucial resources for more job, skills training, education, drug treatment and prevention programs for at-risk youths.

The Lee killing is the latest in a long string of grotesque murders that have rocked the nation’s inner cities. This time, the outpouring of anger and action by community residents in Los Angeles is sending a message that many are ready to find real, long-term solutions to take back their streets.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson (ehutchi344@aol.com) is a columnist and author of “The Crisis in Black and Black” (Middle Passage Press).

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