Some will say it was just boastful adolescent behavior. Others will see Jamiel Shaw Jr. representing his set, the Rollin’ 20’s NHB, meaning Neighborhood Bloods, in MySpace as something darker.

Illustration by Mitch Handsone

(Click to enlarge)

But one thing became clear last week, when details in media reports depicted the slain 17-year-old football star as throwing up gang signs, claiming “IM A Tru G SABG” (True Gangsta, Second Avenue Bloods Gang) and threatening rivals (as a “Crip Killer,” “18 Street Killer,” “Rollin 30’s Killer”): Jamiel Shaw Jr., allegedly slain by an illegal immigrant and then elevated to the status of clean-cut young black man, as Angelenos engaged in a wrenching debate over Special Order 40, in fact saw himself as a Blood.

His friends, angry adolescents, are now using the Internet to assert his gang membership, throw up gang hand signs and threaten rivals — much of it in memory of the supposedly straight-up victim, Shaw.

One disturbing photo posted in his memory is of two rival 18th Street gangbangers with their faces crossed out and titled “Fuck Fackteenz” — an insult to another very vicious gang. But the most disturbing stuff is in the online photo archive Photobucket (,* where someone called “earl5sponge” assembled 900 pictures in an album with an animated logo of the Neighborhood Bloods — N and B dripping blood. That online album contains tributes to Shaw, photos of his friends throwing gang signs next to Shaw’s sidewalk memorial, children brandishing weapons and a shot of a teenager pointing a handgun at another child’s head.

Two weeks ago, gang graffiti turned up on a curb and door in Shaw’s neighborhood. One neighbor, who requested anonymity out of safety concerns, says the crude scribbling read: “2Wild A.I.P.” According to a source, 2Wild is one of Shaw’s known gang names, and A.I.P. is a sign of the Bloods. And his MySpace tributes from friends refer to Shaw by using other chilling gang names, including DucKe Wild (cK meaning “Crip Killer”).

But his parents don’t want the death of their son to be overshadowed by the innuendo and are instead demanding an end to Special Order 40, which instructs Los Angeles cops not to ask the immigration status of anyone unless he or she has already been arrested. They have gained many supporters in the wake of Shaw’s murder, allegedly by an illegal immigrant who was released from jail the day before the shooting.

But the messages written near the Shaw home, and the cyberspace tributes from his friends, tell a more complex story of the dead teenager. Those messages translate into the same dark tribute: “Jamiel Shaw, Blood Resting In Peace.”

“To me, he’s a gang member,” says retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Richard Valdemar, a gang expert. After reviewing Shaw’s MySpace antics, he says, “He’s throwing up a two with one hand and a zero with the other, so that’s [Rollin’] 20’s. Then he’s crossing out the C’s and E’s, those are rival gangs, the Crips and the Eighteens (18th Street). So crossing out C’s, wearing red and throwing up 20 — that’s a gang member.”

The Rev. K.W. Tulloss, who has joined Project Islamic Hope in a national campaign to get MySpace to clean up the net-banging Shaw was involved in, says, “I’m saying, to save other kids, this kind of gang violence should be banned.”

Shaw’s controversial MySpace pages disappeared from the Internet in mid-May, but they are expected to be submitted as evidence, along with a red Spider-Man backpack and private pages showing bandannas and other gang indicators. L.A. Weekly has also learned that another piece of evidence, Shaw’s red belt, had “20’s” written on it.

Gang interventionist Skip Townsend of 2ND Call cautions against a rush to judgment of the victim, saying, “Jamiel wasn’t a gang member, even if he glorified the behavior. And though most of his friends claim to be Bloods, they have jobs.”

The grieving Shaws, including his mother, who was serving in Iraq when her son was murdered, reject any suggestion that he was in a gang. On KTLA Radio, Jamiel Shaw Sr. insisted his son was making a peace sign in one apparent gang photo, and mimicking “Mork and Mindy, from Star Trek [sic]” in the other. Sergeant Anita Shaw insists that she taught Jamiel the splayed-finger Star Trek sign used by Leonard Nimoy when he was 5.

Murder suspect Pedro Espinoza, 19, an illegal immigrant and member of the 18th Street Gang, was released from the Los Angeles County Jail one day before Shaw’s shooting. Since the 18th Street Gang has been in a bloody 12-year war with the Rollin’ 20’s, that battle has been suggested as a motive behind Shaw’s slaying. Street sources are now alleging that Espinoza has “B” and a “K” — which matches the common street abbreviation for “Blood Killer” — tattooed on his neck, but police have not confirmed the claim.

If true, it lends credence to prosecutor Michele Hanisee’s theory that suspect Espinoza was looking to kill a Blood and “mistook” Jamiel Shaw Jr.’s red belt and backpack as Bloods attire. The Shaws publicly disagreed, and Hanisee was removed from the case.

But the district attorney’s position that the shooter thought Shaw was in a gang is unchanged. “I’m looking forward to the evidence being presented in court, so everyone can decide for themselves what was in the mind of the shooter,” says Gary Hearnsberger, who heads the Hardcore Gang Division but won’t comment on evidence. “It’s amazing how many people can make up their minds without knowing anything.”

Shaw had no criminal record and was unarmed, and witnesses claimed that the shooter asked, “Where are you from?” and then fired.

Believing that his son would be alive today if Espinoza had been determined illegal and deported as required, Jamiel Shaw Sr. is promoting a signature-gathering effort to put Jamiel’s Law on the Los Angeles ballot in March 2009. It seeks to overturn Special Order 40.

“The Shaws are well-meaning, and public sympathy was with them. But race and politics have rammed their way into this debate with a vengeance,” notes political commentator and community activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson. “My fear is that this is pitting blacks against Latinos by people who know illegal immigration hits a sore nerve with African-Americans. And so they latched on to this and have made it part of their political agenda.”

Others argue that Jamiel’s Law isn’t any more controversial than the unusual directive it seeks to overturn.

Special Order 40 mandates that LAPD notify immigration officials when officers arrest illegal immigrants, but the order is ignored by some officers, who still mistakenly believe they cannot ask anyone’s immigration status. Espinoza, who had previously been arrested by LAPD and Culver City police, was released by county jailers who failed to check his status — as did, apparently, the other agencies. Special Order 40 has been around for decades, but confusion still reigns.

Councilman Dennis Zine, a veteran cop, has drafted a motion to allow police to question a gang member’s citizenship in the course of “gang suppression.” He left untouched the provision forbidding LAPD from questioning the status of illegal immigrants who are the victims of gangs.

“I’ve tried to make this rule deal strictly with gang members,” Zine says. “Sometimes people ask, ‘How can you tell if a suspect is a gang member?’ Well one way is they have the name of the gang tattooed on their chests!”

Shaw’s father has withheld his support, saying of Zine, “He’s not doing exactly what we want, so we can’t get onboard with him. He needs to get onboard with Jamiel’s Law.”

KABC TalkRadio 790 morning host Doug McIntyre, who aired extensive reports on Special Order 40 after the murder, says, “I don’t understand how [Jamiel] became such a villain. Because he was a real person, and not a saint? If we’re going to wait to act in this city till we have a perfect person as an example, we’re going to bury a lot more kids.”

Shaw’s apparent gang affiliation was unknown to Zine when he drafted his motion, which is not named after anyone. Says the councilman: “I was thinking about the other grieving families that lost kids to gang violence. I respect them all.”

In gang-torn Highland Park, Avenues Gang members were convicted of killing Luisa Prudhomme’s 21-year-old son, Anthony. His grieving mom doesn’t mind the name “Jamiel’s Law” — even if it were proved that it memorializes a kid mired in gang culture. But, Prudhomme says, “When Anthony was murdered, there wasn’t even a line in the paper. It made me realize that there are way more of these killings than we even know about.”

Editor's Note: A correction was made to the weblink in this story. The original URL contained a space which led to a “Page not found” error. On Monday, June 9 we corrected the problem, and we regret the error. 

LA Weekly