Thursday, December 06, 2007

Stand Up San Pedro: Stand UP
By Diana L. Chapman

It was a typical Saturday, maybe even a Sunday, where my son had all his friends over – and they asked – innocently – if they could go down to Pt. Fermin Park – together.
My heart stopped. And it was the middle of the day. I didn’t want them to go.
I looked at them all: black, white, Hispanic and Asian, all around the age of 13.
And the fear grew, beginning to web around me so I felt as if I was being crushed by a metal brace and couldn’t breath. I didn’t want them to go. Not together. I didn’t feel they were safe. I was terrified that a gang member would show up and teach these children a lesson – one that seems to be going around in our town lately: don’t mix races.
Now, I'm hearing allegedly that nooses are being strung up down at the docks at our two harbors and that a rally was scheduled for noon today at the Pacific Maritime Association in Long Beach to discuss "the hostile and discriminatory work environment directed at African American Longshore workers."
While a flier said five nooses have appeared at the docks, I could only confirm one incident.
But now my fear has grown. Within the past year, at least four San Pedro High students have been shot -- at least one who was killed, and two others -- a Latino and African-American friend -- were shot outside the Boys and Girls Club port site. They were allegedly being taught a lesson from gang members that they are not allowed to hang out together.
"What's it going to take for this town to wake up?" Central Neighborhood Council president, Joe Gatlin, asked during a meeting over the issues. He represents a portion of the black community, since his roots date back generations and at least 500 family members still live in town. But now, Joe said, many of his friends and family members are packing their bags and are moving out -- out of fear.
At least four African-American families he knows are leaving the area, especially those feeling threatened since the October killing of a popular San Pedro High School student -- a 6 foot 6" Pirates football and basketball player, shot in the chest protecting his friends during a party.
Students have told me that gang members crashed the celebration, bringing guns and knives, and making racial slurs when a brawl broke out. I knew many of the kids at this party. Good kids. Students preparing for college. Students that are athletes. For God sake's, two of my girlfriend's children were at the party.
"We are in a war zone," Joe said. "I believe people just don't know what's going on or they would help. People are leaving the community. People who have lived here for generations are leaving the community. This has got to stop."
When my son first got accepted to the “gifted” program at Dana Middle School, I admit readily I copped an attitude. I was sure it was an “elitist" group, possibly all white. Over the three years, I discovered I had my own lesson to learn. I found myself steadily traveling all over the community to pick up kids, from the middle of town, to the richest area of town, to poorest areas of town. For once, I realized that the Los Angeles Unified School District had done something really right – they had pulled together children who would never have met each other otherwise. Poor. Rich. Black. White. Hispanic. Asian. Wherever they were from, they were together.
And out of this came a conglomerate of students, one that I was so proud my son spent his days with.
But then La Terian was shot and killed -- a kid who put a face on this tragedy for all of us.
He had turned his life around when he moved away from the violence of other Los Angeles areas and moved here. Coaches spotted him immediately and got him into both football and basketball and he worked hard to bring and keep his grades up.
Younger kids at the Boys and Girls Club looked up to him in awe -- and he took the time to talk and counsel them. He was killed for absolutely no reason – except for what I believe is this: gang members made it so. I believe it was because he was African-American.
We think it stops there, with kids like La Terian. But it doesn’t. Now, I find myself waking up every morning wondering when the next kid is going to be killed. And I selfishly pray that it won't be my kid. Or my friend's kids. And then I pray that it not be anyone's kid.
I was unable to confirm the number of African–American families moving out, but I did talk to a mother who pulled her daughter out of San Pedro High School, because of threats she was receiving on her life they believe stems from her tight friendship with LaTerian, the mother said.
“A lot of people are scared straight,” she said, asking not to be identified due to the violence on the streets. “A group of Latinas were calling my daughter “ nigger,” and were threatening to harm her.
“It’s sad. I love San Pedro. But I can drive down every single block and see where I had friends killed. I have had friends die on every street.”
When I told my friends that I had been afraid to let my son and his friends go to Pt .Fermin – some thought that I was overreacting.
Joe, however, did not. He’s adamant that it’s a matter of time before someone more prominent is killed – and then we all wake up. Gang members, he said, are everywhere across this community – making decisions for us. If they decide that this little group of boys should’t be together, they can very well make it so.
He wonders what it will all take for us to pull all together, to be the community we should be, to protect each other. I think, that’s who La Terian was. Laterian was our wake up call to bring us all together.
I can’t believe I have the guts to say this: Stand up San Pedro. Have the guts to stand up – stand up now before its too late.