By Diana L. Chapman
Over the past four months, two San Pedro High football players, one who just graduated and lived to tell his story, and another who was enjoying himself at “an athletes” party have been ruthlessly shot in our coastal town.
In the first incident, last August, an 18-year-old former Pirate survived a hail of bullets that ripped through his torso while sitting on porch with friends on a hot summer night. (That made about two lines in the press.)
The second incident, at a party the weekend before Halloween, had an even more tragic end. A SPHS football and basketball player, Laterian Tasby (L.T.), 17, died from a single shot to the chest after he “fought like a soldier” to protect his friends, a Boys and Girls Club staff official said.
The two events—both gang-related—have left me deflated. Neither boy belonged to a gang Both were respected athletes, fully immersed in the sports culture of their community.
A public candlelight vigil for Laterian is planned for the week of Nov. 12 (times and dates will be announced). Mona Sutton, co-owner of the Omelette and Waffle Shop, is organizing the event along with April Black, an official from Toberman. Los Angeles Habor Boys and Girls Club director, Mike Lansing, and Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn has agreed to speak.
It’s the first time I can remember a vigil in honor of a student killed like this in San Pedro. When Mona called me about it, I was thankful that at last someone was doing something to honor our young people—no matter what part of town they live in.
I consider Mona a “great equalizer,” a leader who has the ability to pull us together so we can grieve publicly over this tragic loss.
Others at the party, a mix of San Pedro High school and some college students, included another SPHS football player who was injured along with three other teenagers. All four have since recovered from bullet or stab wounds.
While I didn’t know Laterian well, I know probably half the kids who attended the party. Several are leaders at the Boys and Girls Club along with several other achieving San Pedro High students. Many of the teens spend much of their time in that family atmosphere at the club – striving to stay away from gangs and using the club as their safe haven. Most of them were on track for college, explained a staff member involved closely with the students, who asked not to be named.
Two of my friends children scrambled out of the house after Laterian was shot shortly before midnight. When I went to the Boys and Girls Club Wednesday afternoon for my weekly writer’s workshop, I watched young men and women stream back from Laterian’s funeral. Some were stoic, others were in tears, but it made me realize they were wondering about their own tomorrow, their own future. How could they not be? One of their closest friends, a popular leader, a peacekeeper at both the high school and club, was shot before their eyes.
About a year ago, two teenage friends – one black, the other Latino – were shot outside the Boys and Girls Club on Fifth Street. Why? The Latino boy had refused to join a gang and had befriended an African-American. Both were “taught a lesson” for hanging out together, club officials told me.
Laterian, who stood 6-foot-6, was called a “monster” by some because of his size. He tried to protect his friends from the alleged suspects who infiltrated the party apparently toting guns and knives.
The suspects allegedly made racial remarks and punched and stabbed one of the club members, which prompted the brawl.
“People are still trying to justify it as though Laterian was in a gang,” explained. a club official who said Laterian had moved in with his aunt and uncle for his sophomore year to escape from the violence where he grew up. “It was just supposed to be a small party for athletes. This should never have happened.”
Laterian was African-American, as is the teenager shot in August.
The popular football player had turned his life around and was making headway with his grades –achieving a C average so he could pursue college. College scouts were coming to see him play and his future looked bright and promising.
His horrific story came on the heels of the former Pirate player shot when he was hanging out with friends shortly before midnight Aug. 2 on the front porch of a house in the 900 block of Santa Cruz Street. I’m withholding his name at the request of police.
My friend’s son, now in college, had just left when four African-Americans pulled over and asked the former player for directions. Then they shook his hand, but one of the suspects held on tightly. A gun appeared, and the victim was shot multiple times in the torso, elbow and leg.
The suspects fled while his friends rushed him to the emergency room, where he miraculously survived.
When I bumped into him later at a going away party, I had no idea who he was. I just saw a cast on his arm and asked what happened. He told me he had been shot, but wasn’t sure why. He dismissed any racial overtones, although he was hanging out with Latino friends. He was dumbfounded he was alive.
So am I.
I never thought San Pedro would turn out this way with our kids dying in the streets. In the past, people I talked to dismissed these incidents because it wasn’t their kid. Their kid would never be caught in that situation. Now, I realize that if we believe this, we’re living in a dream world.
Police Commander Pat Gannon, a San Pedro native who is in charge of homicides and gang details in the LAPD’s southern region, said parents need to be more vigilant.
Parents must no longer allow their children to go to parties, no matter where they are. It takes only a couple of knuckleheads crashing a party to turn it into a dangerous event.
“There’s the way the world should be, and then there’s the way it is,” Pat told me. “Kids should be able to go to parties. It’s part of the fun. But today it’s a recipe for disaster. There are mean, nasty people out there, and unfortunately a couple of them ended up at that party and it became life-altering. It’s just tragic.”
Although he has no magic solution, he said parents should look for red flags such as a party “everyone is talking about” that could grow too large and unwieldy. Perhaps, parents need to organize parties in safe locations.
I was hit with the news of Laterian’s death just after returning from vacation. I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach, because I knew the emotional roller coaster the kids at the Boys and Girls Club would be on—having watch one of their own become such a success story gives them hope and makes them strive that much harder.
In an attempt to help them heal – whatever that can possibly mean – I asked them to write about L.T. There’s not much else I can do, except ask you to show you’re support. Attend the candlelight vigil.
It’s the only way as a community we can show we care for our kids – all of the kids in our community –and let gang members know we demand peace for our children.
Police are looking for help in both investigations. Call (310) 522-2021 if you have any information.