Friday, June 6, 2008

A Triple Burden for Jamiel Shaw Sr.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Jamiel Shaw Sr. carries a crushing triple burden. He was in ear shot of the spot several doors down from his house where his son Jamiel Shaw Jr. was gunned down some weeks ago. The young Shaw was a highly sought after high school football and track prospect. His murder was Shaw Sr.’s first crushing burden. His son’s alleged killer is a reported gang member who earlier had been released from the Culver City jail, and he is an illegal immigrant. The pain and fury Shaw Sr. felt over the killing and the fact that the alleged killer is an illegal immigrant propelled him to crusade for the passage of Jamiel’s Law. The law would severely modify Special Order 40 which forbids LAPD officers from stopping and detaining suspects solely on suspicion that they are illegal immigrants. The fact that the alleged killer was an illegal immigrant and the uphill fight to get Jamiel’s Law passed is Shaw’s second burden.
The law and his fight to get it enacted is controversial, conflicting, and has inflamed and divided many blacks and Latinos. There‘s no question, though, that Shaw Sr. battles for the law out of the sincere desire to see that no other family suffer the pain and loss of a son or daughter to gang violence due to a screw up by authorities in the mishandling of known violence prone gang members of dubious legal status in the country.
The Shaw Jr. killing ignited an unprecedented outpouring of sympathy, support, and goodwill from city officials, church and community leaders, civil rights groups, and anti-gang violence activists. It also ignited a non-stop barrage of local and news stories on the pain and plight of the Shaw family. The media was properly gentile and deferential in its coverage of the killing. The danger is that could change. This is the third crushing burden dumped on Shaw Sr.
All it took to change that and add this burden were some unflattering shots, and pictures, and scrawl on Shaw Jr.’s My Space blog that purportedly shows him mugging and flipping gang signs, markings, and speaking gang code lingo. The inference is that Shaw Jr. was not the clean cut, upstanding highly praised, scholar-athlete that the media and the thousands that empathized with Shaw Sr. were led to belief. The even more painful inference is that Shaw Jr. was not an innocent who was gunned down by a hateful, vengeful gang member but that his alleged gang involvement, even affiliation, made him an inviting target for a hit.
There is absolutely no proof that any of this is true. There are thousands of young persons that talk the talk, swagger, posture, know the gang code lingo, dress the dress. Yet they are no more likely than Barack Obama to join a gang let alone be involved with gang violence. A near textbook example of this rush to judgment when any young black displays what is allegedly gang trappings is the case of Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce. He was slapped with a ludicrous $25,000 fine by the NBA for supposedly flashing a gang sign on the court. (Pierce is universally lauded for his community and charitable work) This certainly applies to Shaw Jr. But that means little once the rumor mill shifts into high gear. The innuendos, hints, and finger points fly with abandon.
It’s easy of course for many to think and believe the worst about young African-American males such as Shaw Jr. given the top heavy, relentless spew by much of the media of stereotypes and negative typecasting of young black males as gang bangers, drive by shooters, and inherent underachievers. When that happens no matter how false the assertions of gang involvement and how blurred the circumstances of a young man’s killing may be, the damage to the young person’s family and his reputation is done. In the case of Shaw Sr., he’s had to watch with piercing outrage as the memory of his slain son is tarred, tainted, and dragged through the mud. And when the alleged killer is eventually tried he will have to sit in court and listen as defense attorneys for the alleged killer sully his son’s name even more by dredging up his MySpace scrawls as alleged proof of Shaw Jr’s gang membership.
Shaw Sr. has had to suffer the devastation of the loss of a son that he had invested so much of his life into turning into a proud and productive adult. Then he’ll have to fight a controversial fight to get a law passed that many say is futile, wasteful and unnecessary. Now there’s the character assassination of his murdered son. This is a crushing triple burden that no parent should have to bear. Yet, sadly it’s one that Shaw Sr. has been forced to bear.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).