A young man was killed in our neighborhood last week. He was a USC film student who had some sort of altercation on the street while walking with friends late at night near campus. There was a fight, he was stabbed, and he died. Everything about the situation is tragic, and while USC can feel like an isolated world within our community, we certainly join his family and friends and the broader campus community in grief and sorrow over the loss of a bright young life.
I had known something must have happened due to the large number of helicopters which hovered nearby for so many hours that first morning after the incident occurred. And sure enough, it was the leading news story on every station throughout the day. My route home from Mercy’s preschool takes me directly past where the killing took place, and there were news trucks still stationed there the day after the tragedy was so widely reported.
As I watched the news coverage share footage from the candlelight vigil the night after his murder; as I heard friends share their love for this young man and their sorrow at losing him; as I listened to reporters tell the story of this young man’s life and accomplishments, I was struck by how much this extensive news coverage stood in contrast to the silence that typically hovers over the murders that happen in our hood.
When Carlos died on our corner four years ago today, there were no helicopters. When we held our vigil of remembrance and prayer, no footage was looped on any network. It is hard not to feel as if some lives really matter more; it is difficult to not conclude that some people are simply expected to die.
Just last week I came across a deeply disturbing article tracing a serial killer’s years of murder in our community, and the comprehensive political silence which accompanied his crimes. Because he is killing young black women, mostly prostitutes, not even the families of the dead girls were informed that their loved ones died at the hands of a serial killer.
“It doesn’t take a scientist to figure it out,” she says. But when LAPD detectives paid Peters a visit, they didn’t come clean with her. The city’s failure to involve the families, she believes, stems from the fact that “they are poor little black girls.”
A deeply frustrated Porter Alexander, who learned from this newspaper that his daughter Monique’s death in 1988 was the work of the Grim Sleeper, says, “We should have some awareness that it is going on again. Nobody came to us…”
The Weekly attempted to reach elected city officials and top Villaraigosa political appointees, but many were out of town, attending the Democratic National Convention, including the mayor, City Council President Eric Garcetti and Police Commission Vice President John Mack. Spokeswoman Eva Vega said Mack couldn’t weigh in on the Grim Sleeper case. “He doesn’t have the time,” she said. “He’s too busy right now.” The Weekly got a nearly identical response from Bratton’s office.
Such responses from City Hall feed the view held by Laverne Peters, that if 11 troubled young women had been killed in Westwood or Mount Washington by a single nut case operating over 23 years, it would be big news at City Hall. Instead, “It is almost hush-hush. … [The authorities] act like the parents of those kids don’t exist.”
Since the publication of the article quoted above, a reward has been issued for help in solving this case.
As I drove up Western Avenue the other night after a later Target run, I saw the alleys and dumpsters where these women’s bodies have been left. I thought of our own good friend who used to work as a prostitute in this very area. And once again I was struck by whose deaths warrants outrage; whose murders feel like loss; whose lives feel invisible and disposable.