'People don't identify with this unless it has happened to them. They can't understand why you hold onto it even though you want to let it go. I got to let this go and just take on living . . . But there's something about it.
You can't let it go . . .'
Co-founder of the group 'Loved Ones of Homicide Victims' who lost two sons to violence.
They have a grim, particularly shocking way of introducing themselves, the members of this once-a-month Saturday morning group.
"I'm James Chavis," begins the slight, mustachioed man near the head of the long wooden table. "That's my wife, Laura. We're trying to get over losing a son to robbery and murder. Being robbed and beaten to death for no reason. That's why we're here. To get over that."
"I'm LeeBertha Pickett-Allen," declares the motherly woman at his left. "My son was Earnest Pickett Jr. He was murdered at Dorsey High School by gang members. He was an innocent bystander. There is still no one serving any time on it . . . and it seems to me the longer a person goes unpunished, the worse I get."
"My name is Tommie Whitmore," continues the kindly looking man seated near her. "My daughter was murdered in November of 1985. Driving down the street. Someone shot her in the head and killed her."
With a numbing kind of sameness, the introductions go on.
Mothers and daughters, cousins and uncles, all of them have come to share--and perhaps in some way ease--the searing pain that identifies them as one of the "Loved Ones of Homicide Victims."
All from South-Central Los Angeles, they have been meeting this way for almost a year.
Searching for a sense of purpose and understanding in the murders that occur almost daily in their neighborhoods, they cry, they roar with outrage and they stare vacantly. They try to exorcise the bitterness eating away at them and the fury they feel for everyone who treats violence in their communities as just another fact of life.
There is Emma Fairley, whose daughter was spirited from her house and strangled a year ago March 3, and Cheryl Scott-James whose "beautiful husband, Kerry," was murdered after turning his back on a 20-year-old gang member in October, 1984.
There is Barbara Markham, whose husband, Robert, was shot to death as he worked in his garage one night last January, and Vanelea Shores, whose 24-year-old daughter was choked and tossed from a 12th-story window by a crazed admirer two years ago.
And there is Shirley Butler, the woman who co-founded the group after losing both of her sons to the same inexplicable violence--the first stabbed as he rode home on an RTD bus and the second, the victim of a drive-by shooting. The murders occurred only five months apart.
"This week is the anniversary of my youngest son's death," Butler says by way of her introduction. "And I'm having kind of a thing of it myself.
"People don't identify with this unless it has happened to them. They can't understand why you hold onto it even though you want to let it go. I got to let this go and just take on living. . . . But there's something about it.
"You can't let it go. And when you have had two without any sense at all, that's the hard part. Two. Without any sense at all."
Most of these survivors have a keen awareness of how the justice system works--and doesn't work--for them. They speak their own language, a parlance peppered with phrases like "my murderer," and "my perpetrator."
They have their own opinions, the result, they say, of dealings with police and prosecutors who don't care enough, and of the scores of murders in their communities that remain unsolved.
And they share a commitment toward advocacy and a belief that if justice is to be even-handed, they must speak out.
"They (authorities) have some unrealistic ideas about the level of tolerance that black people have when they have homicides," said Norma Johnson, a counselor with the city's Victim-Witness Assistance Program who helped launch the group.
"It's like we have it happen so often, we don't care. . . . We're some special kind of animal that it doesn't affect us that bad. . . . You would not believe the callousness and the coldness some of these people have to face. . . . But it's people killing people and it just breaks my heart."
Like Butler, Johnson is a regular at the sessions, which are held the second Saturday of every month at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference offices in South Los Angeles.