By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
The December 15 shooting of 14-year-old Cheryl Green in many ways was a mirror image of the triple homicide on 49th Street. Like 10-year-old David Marcial, Green was playing in a driveway in midafternoon when a gunman raced up and opened fire. In both cases, the killing traumatized the neighborhood. But in Harbor Gateway, the victims were black. On 49th Street, they were brown.
Police believe Green and her friends had been targeted by Latino gang members because of their race. Three days before Christmas, the family of the slain eighth-grader — backed by outraged community leaders — stood before news cameras and called for an end to an invisible border that made African-American families terrified of traveling north of 206th Street, in their own neighborhood. A black family living next to the crime scene had a different solution, loading up a moving van and leaving for good.
Green’s death — with its racial component, its subtext of blacks versus Latinos – grabbed Los Angeles and its news media in ways that other killings in 2006 did not. Most murders generated a day or two of news coverage or were ignored altogether. Even the triple homicide on 49th Street was greeted with silence after several days. The murder in Harbor Gateway was different, sparking six weeks of protests, community meetings, promises of help from the federal government.
Distraught, Hahn began casting around for a solution. She called for a legal injunction to crack down on the 204th Street gang. Then she asked her pollster to find out how voters would feel about a $50 million tax to fund more youth programs. Yet the city’s own expert on gang programs was, at roughly the same time, suggesting that an effective strategy might cost as much as $1 billion, or five times the cost of the 2,000 additional police officers still sought by Bratton.
Hundreds of people attended Green’s funeral, crowding into a church in Inglewood that looked more like a cinder-block bunker than a house of worship. At least a third of the crowd were children — slender teenage girls wearing fur-collared coats, boys sporting the narrow braids of the latest hip-hop crooner. Some girls burst into tears the minute they entered the church. Others fidgeted awkwardly, breaking into sobs only when they passed the open casket where Green lay surrounded by white roses and lilies.
The coffin was light pink, a color more suited to a teenage girl’s bedroom. In the casket, Cheryl looked like a princess, dressed in a white beaded gown and a sparkly tiara. At one point, her family formed an arc around the coffin, with aunts, uncles, sisters and cousins all saying goodbye and caressing the girl’s long, white ?formal gloves.
Few of those who spoke at the lectern acknowledged the awful circumstances of Green’s death. Instead, they described their joy over her arrival in heaven, her family’s embrace of Jesus. The pastor, a barrel-chested African-American with a velvety voice, brought the crowd back to grim reality, giving a sermon that was as much about himself as it was about the little girl in the pink casket.
With a basso profundo that enthralled the audience, Pastor Jordan Allen wanted the girl’s mother to understand that he knew precisely how she felt. He told how three months earlier, his own 18-year-old grandson had been struck down by gunfire as he chatted on a cell phone.
“I honestly believed,” the preacher said slowly in his Barry White whisper, “that if you love your children, if you love your grandchildren, if you provide for them, if you make sure they have all the food they need to eat, if you make sure that they don’t have any reason to go out in the streets and get crazy with drugs and everything else, that if you did that, they would be all right.
“On October 2, the covers were pulled off of my eyes, because I found out it didn’t matter.” The heavy-set preacher spat out the words “It didn’t matter” — his growl turning into a scream of anguish — “that he had good-looking shoes, all the clothes that he needed, that he didn’t have to envy anybody for anything. Because at the end of the day, he decided he wanted to go the store to get a soda.”
Allen told the children in the congregation he knew they were terrified, regardless of all their fine clothes and tough exteriors. “This world is going to hell,” he declared. “This young angel, who even looks like an angel in the casket, is a testament to the fact that you can be a good kid and still be taken out of here. For all of you preachers and all of you politicians, we’ve got some work to do. And I’m not quite sure how. Because how do you stop craziness?”
And there was the question again. How do you put an end to murder?
The day of Green’s funeral, four days were left in 2006. By then, what little progress the city had made in reducing homicides had nearly evaporated. The Los Angeles Times reported on December 26 that homicides dropped 4 percent, the fourth consecutive yearly decline. But by the time the story ran, more murders had been committed, cutting the reduction to just over 3 percent. By December 31, homicides had fallen by only 2.4 percent — 12 fewer murders than in 2005.