Friday, February 29, 2008


By Diana L. Chapman

The day the veteran SWAT officer was shot and killed, he was praised for his years of service – and was noted as the first member of the Los Angeles Police's Special Weapons and Tactics team to ever die in action since the program's inception.

Tears flowed from officers and his family over the Feb. 7 death of Randal Simmons, of Rancho Palos Verdes, who was only 51 when he was shot by a gunman who had already killed three members of his family. The community was devastated by the officer’s loss.

Cops and residents alike – even the mayor of Los Angeles – ran to console the family and hundreds mourned his death. His was the most attended police officer funeral in the history of Los Angeles. Today, (Saturday March 1) Niko’s Pizzeria will give 50 percent of what people purchase at the restaurant from 10 a.m. until midnight to help his grieving family. I am asking you now: Do this -- but do even more than this.

Because what is not being mourned – is the incredible devastation his death will mean to a giant swath of children Randal had steadfastly helped who live in some of the most blighted areas of Los Angeles. He coached them in sports. He became their mentor. He taught them about Jesus. But most of all, he gave them his heart.

More than anything else in the world – when the rest of us would turn and run – this cop was there for those piles of kids no one else wanted to help, kids that lived in the most gang-ridden parts of the city. He knew their names. He knew their troubles. These are kids that we ignore in our own backyard – every single day.

Kids who march home by drug dealers. Kids who get their bikes stolen as part of their daily routine. Kids who get thumped for their money. Kids whose parents are heroine addicts.

Kids – it seems to me – that no one else cares about but a truly heroic man like Officer Simmons and others like him. He knew it was not only his job as a human being, but his duty. Unlike many of us, he walked the talk – no matter what religion, or culture you are from. He lived for humanity and children were a big part of his faith.

The days after his death, I tried to read what the kids said about this man; their grief so evident, so overpowering, I could hardly take the stories. One little girl could barely speak; she did nothing but cry because she said, her life would never be the same.

I know exactly what it means when kids see and feel someone has given them their heart. They know it clearly and powerfully; They know it more than any adult around; then – and only then -- will these injured children trust. This officer's death means a hole has been torn in the heart of children, children whose lives were already shredded and tattered, and now gone was a person they could trust.

Then I began to worry about the officer's son.

As I watched, Matthew, 15, a near carbon copy of his dad, all I could think about was this; He’s likely to try to carry forth this load all alone – the path his father left for him. The path that so many of our youths need; someone who will show them devotedly that they care. People who:

When they say they’ll show, they show.
When they say they care, they mean they care.
When they are needed, they respond.

Wait. Stop here. This is when my girlfriend called me and complained about my article. Why is it, she asked, that everyone is ignoring his 13-year-old daughter, Gabrielle? Having lost her CHP officer husband seven years ago in March to prostate cancer, Debbie Vasquez has raised her son, Jake, without a dad.

She knows the rigors ahead for the family -- the mother, Lisa especially -- and added: "How do we know that the daughter won't go into law enforcement and follow in her Dad's footsteps too? She encouraged me to include the daughter.

I humbly apologized, because I knew she was right. The little voice in the back of my mind told me that and of course, I ignored it. Perhaps both children will follow him -- but even still, it's a giant burden.

What Officer Simmons did is unusual and even more evident at his service was the way it was loaded with seniors, kids and residents of South Los Angeles – who usually are so terrified of police they would sooner turn and run. For this officer, however, they held up signs by the dozens thanking him.

Imagine that. They thanked him – not one or two residents. But hundreds. And they cried for him.

And then I thought, why should this officer’s son, such a young man be left with such an onerous task alone? His father made the choice to not become detached from the hurt and hunger he saw on the streets; He spelled it out so carefully for all of us what we need to do. And it seems to me, he spelled it out for his son and his daughter too.

Yes, take heart. Show up at Niko’s – 399 W. Sixth Street – to help leave his family with funds to send his kids to college and to help them in every way possible.

If you want to thank officer Simmons, then help his son and daughter. Take a look at your own backyard, get out the telephone book, call the schools, call Recreation and Parks, call the Boys and Girls Club, call your local library, your local police department – and figure out what you can do for kids now. Perhaps you can read with a child, teach them music, or just listen to their troubles.

If you find the agencies not interested, keep on trying – because there are thousands upon thousands of kids who don’t need you today or tomorrow. They needed you yesterday. I know myself. I work with these kids every day. Find a way to plug in somehow and help a kid.

And don't be surprised if they live right next door, because all children need help to grow and flourish, no matter where they live. Think of the adults who took the time to help you and then find a way to reach out and give back.

That is the best way you can remember Officer Randal Simmons. Do not let his children carry such a load alone. I’m talking to police officers. Business professionals. School administrators. And anybody else who will listen.

Officer Simmons was doing with his life everyday what we should be all doing. He provided part of the village to help kids grow – especially kids maimed by the very environment that they have to live in.

Like Officer Simmons, give kids your heart. If he was here today, he would likely tell us that giving his heart to kids was something he would always cherish, because it is oddly sweet and fulfilling. And if you follow his path, in a very strange way, you not only will be honoring this hero, you will also help fill those giant shoes left behind for his two children, and his wife, Lisa.

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