“The kind people easily dismiss…”

For all of the jokes and smiles our little phone-line bullet has provided the past two days, I find myself occasionally glancing over at the little lump of metal and shuddering. I have fought back the visual memories of standing in my Chicago apartment bathroom helping one of the young men who had been one of the “founding kids” for my ministry in Chicago clean out a bullet wound in his shoulder. I remember washing and reapplying a bandage to the wound; I remember how his skin felt, and the way his muscles tensed.

I have shuddered at the memory of that same young man a few years later lying still in a white suit. I remember how cold his cheek was when I kissed it before saying my final goodbye. I remember how cold my heart felt for weeks as I longed for him to be recognized and mourned as a person and not just another urban statistic. I remember wanting to shout from a rooftop that Jamar was dead.

I stumbled upon a sobering website the other day. I was trying to find information on some recent shootings in our neighborhood when I found a blog titled The Homicide Blog published by a crime reporter with the Los Angeles Times. Utilizing police, media and coroner’s reports, she reports every homicide in Los Angeles County with whatever information is available. Occasionally she will write up a story about one of the victims, and the most recent one tells of a young man who was shot and killed outside of his home. Here is a portion of what she writes:

“Audrey Pious came up to the house moments after the shooting. Her 23-year-old son was lying in the front yard, by the bedroom window, his eyes still open. A neighbor was putting pressure on the wound.

She got down on the ground next to him. ‘I got his hand,’ she said. ‘I told him I was there.’ She could tell he was going to die. No one could lose that much blood. Still she told him: ‘Keep breathing.’

Her husband, a truckdriver, learned his son had been shot over the phone while on the road, and was able to minimize it. He imagined a painful, but not life-threatening wound.

WilliampiousverticalHe even rejoiced. Maybe now William would learn his lesson, the father thought. In his mind, he was already composing the lecture he would give him. ‘I could use this as a tool,’ he thought. ‘Now he will see what I am talking about.’

William Pious died at St. Francis hospital at 7:54 p.m. Feb. 21, less than two hours after he was shot. Police said Pious was a gang member, and called the killing ‘gang-related.’ The Police Department put out no press release. No reporters showed up at the crime scene…

Audrey Pious said she knows that this is the kind of homicide people easily dismiss–just another gang or drug murder in Watts, or Compton, like scores of others on the T.V., she said. She knows the unspoken judgment in that dismissal. She says she wishes people could know what it was like–how what look like choices from afar don’t feel that way up close…”

Reading this story reminded me of the murder on our corner, days before I gave birth to our sweet Mercy. It was my birthday, and we had left early that Friday evening to go and celebrate with our dear Santa Monica friends. I can remember driving off, through the throng of kids still riding bikes and playing, and remarking about how nice it was to see all of the kids playing together outside. Not long after we left, a young man was shot and killed while riding his bicycle down our street. We returned home late that night to discover a growing shrine of candles on the corner, and we knew there is only one thing that that could mean.

A few days later my husband wrote this on what was then our little family blog:

“In Memory and for a prayer”

shrine.jpg

“The above picture was taken from our deck of a shrine on our street created to mourn the death of a young man in our community. Carlos was murdered on September 24th. He was 33 years old. Carlos was riding his bike down our street when a car stopped and his killers opened fire. Though this kind of violence undergirds much of this neighborhood it has been a while since the activity has had such an ugly manifestation. This entry is not sweet nor censored. Please pray for our neighborhood, for Carlos’ family, for the gangs and drug pushers, for the children and families of our community, and for the work of God to manifest itself here.

We didn’t know Carlos. What we know of him now is that he leaves behind a wife and three children: 2, 6 and 8. We know that he was a member, or was a member at one time, of a gang. And we know that when he was shot several times and was bleeding out, lying in the street in the working hands of those from the neighborhood who had gone to try and assist him, many children were out on that corner. Our friend’s son had just passed Carlos on his bike and wasn’t even up the stairs into his house, two houses down, when the shots rang out. And Erika and I, having driven past the scene just moments before the shooting occurred while on our way to celebrate Erika’s birthday with good friends, had just commented on how lively and full of people our corner was that night.

There is nothing about the tragedy of what happened that night that does not disturb me. But the thing that haunts me the most is something our neighbor shared with us the next day. He told us that when the LAPD arrived on the scene they asked everyone to back away and cordoned off the intersection. They asked everyone to back away – even those who were engaged in CPR. I was recently recertified in Medic First Aid Basic response. You keep up CPR until help arrives and removes you to take your place. The neighbors engaged in CPR stopped and moved as they were told; but the police just stood there and did nothing. And Carlos died.

Chances are he would have died anyway. He was shot twice in the head and three times in the chest. He was probably drowning in his own blood. Even chest compressions won’t help if the body is denied air, and his airway was disturbed by blood. Because no one had barriers and he was bleeding a lot, mouth to mouth was not being administered.

Perhaps the police thought he was a lost cause because of his bleeding, his massive wounds, his deteriorating state. Perhaps the officers simply made a mistake or did not know the appropriate protocol. Or perhaps they felt he was lost long ago; signs of his losing etched all over his body in the form of gang tattoos.

And so, alone and unattended, Carlos laid in our street and he died.

May God show mercy.”

3 thoughts on ““The kind people easily dismiss…””

  1. Erika – where did you work in Chicago? That’s where I am, living in Humboldt Park, and trying to grow and learn about social change, effective ministries, and building relationships with people. I’ve looked into several organizations – what was yours?

  2. Thank you, Erika, for articulating the nagging sense that the past few posts regarding the bullet was somehow missing something.

    This post really struck me, the way you drew together the comedic ridiculousness of the city, the sorrow of death, the alienation of statistics/stereotypes, and the fear that we all experience as human beings.

    And what Doug wrote… ug. It burns me inside, the way the police just told people to back off. Oh how we dignify the dead!

    Indeed, Lord, have mercy on us all.

  3. Kacie,

    Sorry it took me a few days to respond! I lived on the NW side of Chicago, and the ministry I founded was called “After Hours”. It was an after-school outreach program for youth in the community surrounding North Park University. I started the program while a college student there, then served as its founding director for two years. It still exists today on a much smaller scale. Humboldt Park is a great community–I will pray that God gives you vision and direction for where to serve and invest.

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