Saturday, February 02, 2008


By Diana L. Chapman
Starting in November, it seemed that we were ready to rock-and-roll with a peace vigil and rally -- a plan that was sparked by the shooting death of popular San Pedro High football player La Terian Tasby.
Pastor Oliver Buie of Warren Chapel easily persuaded the planners, including school and city officials, that using John Lennon’s song Imagine, playing it repeatedly – and having the theme, “Peace, Safety and Unity: Let the journey begin...” was a perfect fit. The event was planned at that point for Daniel’s Field and seemed to please everybody.
After weeks of meetings and planning and more weeks of meeting and planning, we then met with San Pedro High School students and asked them what they thought “You do know the song Imagine? Right?,” I asked. The students faces were blank. “How about the Beatles?” I queried. Still blank faces.
That was the moment the entire room – filled with city, school and social agency officials, knew we were back to the beginning, because we wanted to reach across the entire community – in particular to students. I don’t think anyone thought about the fact that us 40 somethings (for the most part) were planning somewhat blindly.
Not only did the students not know the music, they urged us to place the rally at San Pedro High School – a central location and one that honored La Terian and others victimized by gangs. Then one senior shed this wisdom upon us.
“You can’t do this just one time,” he explained, because it's going to take a lot of effort to change the way gangsters behave. Needless to say, we agreed -- once again -- to change the date and location. At Monday’s (1/27) meeting, the new date – May 1 – was challenged for just another hitch, burp and bump in the road.
This was just too close to the time of the immigration protests where students across Los Angeles walked out of schools – and might do so again. More disappointment. However, Joe Gatlin, one of the team's leaders, promptly set up another date at San Pedro High; we are now confirmed for Thursday, May 8th at 7 p.m. at San Pedro High’s Football Stadium.
We plan to read out the names of every child killed by gangs in San Pedro in the past ten years – just to remind us all that this cancer is rotting our community and forcing hundreds of children to live in fear everyday.
And let’s hope this date sticks – because , we as a community, need to do this now. Not next week or the month after that. But now. Why? So the kids know that we care – no matter where they live. Kids at least deserve this much. If the community comes out at large to this event, it might just make the kids think – "Hey, perhaps the residents of San Pedro do feel something for us after all."
La Terian’s death, one of a string over the past ten years, is heart-wrenching for the community, but no one can truly understand what it meant to the students at the Boys and Girls Club where LaTerian landed once his mother moved him down here, believing he was in a safer place.
He came to San Pedro as a 10th grader to San Pedro High where coaches talked him into playing basketball and football – he was 6 feet 7 inches. That’s exactly what he did and he brought up his grades so he could play. At the club, he was a success story.

But it’s not so much what he did for himself. It’s what La Terian did for others – always talking to younger kids that if he could make it – so could they, entertaining his coach’s toddler on a long three-hour drive back from a basketball game – and most of all, just listening. Being a good friend was part of his nature.

And that’s why he probably died at the party. When alleged gang members crashed that October evening, they allegedly attacked LaT erian’s friends – and according to many kids, he died fighting to protect them when he was shot in the chest and died at the scene.
Perhaps this student's writing spells out best the emotions that swirled and pummeled at the Boys and Girls Club – and probably for many students at San Pedro High. “When I found out, I just died,” wrote, a 13-year-old boy and Dana Middle School student. “I asked what happened and when they told me he was shot I started to cry…It hurt me really badly; I wish I could have died with him. I will always remember him as the Empire State Building. I thought he was strong as a boulder, but I guess I found out that he was not as strong as a boulder.”
Since this time, a pall has been cast across the shadows of the children who knew La Terian, a feeling so gray and cold that I'm afraid many of them wonder if they’ll make it to the age of 20.
After all, if the "Empire State Building," can collapse, so can they.
One girl told me she had lost five friends to drive-by shootings in her very short life of 16 years. This peace vigil is not being done in honor of La Terian. Its’ being done in honor of every single child that’s been brought down by gangs, kids who want like the rest of us – just to have a peaceful day in their lives. A day without shootings. A day without helicopters. A day where they can walk home and not worry about getting jumped, having their bikes’ and Ipods stolen. A day where drugs aren’t being sold in front of them…a day like my son often has in his life. A day perhaps like your own child has. Days filled with safe haven. All kids deserve this. La Terian deserved it.
The closer we become as a community, the safer we will all become by letting the police know when these events are about to happen. Let’s head them off at the pass by becoming a community that bonds and cares no matter what section of town you are from. Word on the street, according to some officials, is that some students knew something was brewing, but were afraid to report it to any adults. There’s our job right there. We need to make them comfortable and wanted. We want them to be able to talk to us, but to do so, we have to be willing to listen -- one studen explained to me once.

Peace vigil planners took to heart what that 17-year-old boy told us – we have to do more than one rally. Because of that, school officials are planning “days of dialogue,” at both San Pedro High and Dana Middle schools, where students will be able to openly talk about their feelings so they can be addressed. Organizations such as Toberman and the Boys and Girls Club are being encouraged to do open houses – so that residents are more familiar with what each agency has to offer. Other ideas are being discussed, such as having residents volunteer to undertake mediation training to help settle disputes.
What’s your job in all this? Start with just showing up to the peace vigil whenever it is – so we can perhaps cast aside the shadows of death – and save all the other La Terians out there – because believe me, there are many. And they all deserve a chance -- not just at success -- but a chance at life.