Griev­ing mother’s tough ques­tion

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - SANDY BANKS

Jen­nifer Rivers never imag­ined that her son’s Chuck Tay­lors would lead to his death.

Rivers, 59, has lived her whole life in South Los An­ge­les and re­mem­bers when wear­ing the wrong col­ors in the wrong neigh­bor­hood would make you a tar­get. But that was passe — or so she thought. Un­til last month, when her son Tavin, 19, was shot to death over his red sneak­ers dur­ing their weekly visit to a car­wash on the bor­der of blue gang ter­ri­tory.

“The Chucks,” she said, her voice still thick with grief and dis­be­lief when we spoke this week, 10 days af­ter she buried her son and five days af­ter three al­leged gang mem­bers were charged with his mur­der. “Ev­ery kid wears Chuck

Tay­lors … red, white, blue, black. We all got Chucks.”

The iconic sneaker is a fash­ion state­ment from ur­ban play­grounds to sub­ur­ban malls. Tavin had them in sev­eral col­ors, his mother said. His fa­vorite was red — not be­cause he be­longed to a gang, but be­cause he loved firetrucks.

Tavin was a boy in a young man’s body.

He had been hit by a car when he was 3 years old and spent months in a coma. He emerged with brain dam­age and a stunted body. In his teens, he man­aged to grow a mus­tache. But he was still so tiny that Rivers had to buy his clothes in the chil­dren’s depart­ment.

He couldn’t read “and was slow on com­pre­hen­sion,” his mother said. “I al­ways tried to keep him close to me. I didn’t want any­body to hurt him.”

Tavin prob­a­bly had no idea what the hood­lums at the car­wash meant when they con­fronted him over his sneak­ers. But he did know to walk away. He was head­ing back to his mother when one of the men pulled a pis­tol and shot him twice in the back.

Rivers heard the shots. “I turned around and said: ‘ You just shot my son!’ Then bam bam, he shot him again. Two bul­lets in his chest. They mur­dered my son right in my face!

“Who does that? Oh my God. Who does that?” She was cry­ing and shout­ing into the tele­phone now — wrestling with a ques­tion that’s hard to an­swer, but im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore:

How can some black lives mat­ter so lit­tle to other black peo­ple?

It’s be­come a re­flex­ive re­join­der by folks tired of #Black­Lives­Mat­ter cam­paigns: Where are the protests when black men are killed by other black men?

Ac­tu­ally, those protests hap­pen all the time, and have for years: in liv­ing rooms and at can­dle­light vig­ils, in churches and parks and com­mu­nity cen­ters.

They don’t block traf­fic, rely on catch phrases or send out news re­leases. They do in­clude griev­ing fam­i­lies, car­ing po­lice of­fi­cers, pas­tors, stu­dents, teach­ers and for­mer gang mem­bers — peo­ple who know how deep- seated the prob­lems are. They are not fin­ger- point­ing or lob­bing de­mands. They are do­ing the hard work it takes to re­duce street vi­o­lence and steer young peo­ple to­ward pro­duc­tive lives.

“You can blame the so- called lead­ers for not do­ing enough. But you can’t blame the com­mu­nity,” said LAPD Det. Chris Bar­ling. “They’re up­set about con­tro­ver­sial po­lice shoot­ings and they’re up­set about black- on- black crime.”

Bar­ling, head of homi­cide in the 77th Street Di­vi­sion, of­ten joins the Cease Fire group that meets each Wed­nes­day night at Bethel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church at Western Av­enue and 79th Street to vent and brain­storm. On Mon­days, a sim­i­lar group, the Watts Gang Task Force, meets near the area’s public hous­ing projects. Get­ting peo­ple talk­ing to one another is a start.

All across South Los An­ge­les, lit­tle pro­grams with shoestring bud­gets op­er­ate in church base­ments, at kitchen ta­bles and in public parks — of­fer­ing sports teams, men­tor­ing pro­grams, tu­tor­ing, field trips and even col­lege schol­ar­ships. Any­thing that might steer young peo­ple to­ward pro­duc­tive lives.

Many rely on a net­work of one­time gang mem­bers who have been trained to reach out to teenagers. “We’re not monks or priests, but we are re­sources,” said Ben “Taco” Owens, whose De­tours pro­gram has a club­house where teenagers can use com­put­ers to look for jobs or hang out and watch big- screen bas­ket­ball games. Smok­ing and drink­ing are not al­lowed.

“We don’t get paid to do it,” he said. “We just do it be­cause we want the vi­o­lence to stop.”

Jen­nifer Rivers goes to In­gle­wood Park Ceme­tery ev­ery day to visit her son’s grave. She plans to be in court for ev­ery hear­ing in her son’s case.

But don’t ex­pect her to of­fer for­give­ness or any re­demp­tive speech. “I want to kill him,” she said of the man ac­cused of tak­ing her son’s life. “I want to blow his brains out.”

When the sus­pect ran from the car­wash, Rivers said, she chased him across the street but lost sight of him. When she re­turned to com­fort her dy­ing son and tell po­lice what she had seen, she was threat­ened by a young woman who be­rated her for snitch­ing.

“I told po­lice they’d bet­ter get her or I would,” Rivers said. The young woman was ar­rested that day and charged with wit­ness in­tim­i­da­tion and con­spir­acy to com­mit mur­der.

That wouldn’t have hap­pened if Rivers had been cowed by the no- snitch­ing ethos that makes gang crimes hard to solve.

She has raised nine chil­dren on gang- rid­den blocks and never backed down, she said. When boys on bikes shot up her house in 1973, “I jumped in my car and ran their asses down.… The po­lice came and caught them both. Shoot at my kids? You are not go­ing to get away with that.”

That’s what it will take to make an im­pact on blackon- black crime, she said. “When you see kids [ gang] bang­ing in the com­mu­nity, turn them in.... They don’t care who they hurt or kill.”

I ad­mire her courage. She knows who’s to blame in her son’s death — and it’s not the boy who dared to wear his fa­vorite red shoes in a neigh­bor­hood where gang mem­bers de­cree you’re only al­lowed to choose blue.

Christina House For The Times

JAMES PRICE, 22, wears red Chuck Tay­lor shoes with red shoelaces at a news con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing ar­rests in the death of his brother Tavin, who was shot at a car­wash be­cause he was wear­ing red shoes.

Lawrence K. Ho Los An­ge­les Times

JEN­NIFER RIVERS, mother of shoot­ing vic­tim Tavin Price, 19, won­ders how some black lives can mat­ter so lit­tle to other black peo­ple.

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