KERMIT ALEXANDER is upset. He's too much of a gentleman to be blunt about it. But sitting in his second-story Westwood office, the emotion rumbles out of him like some volcanic aftershock.
In person, Alexander makes a formidable impression. Although he's retired from professional football, his biceps bulge like cast-iron drainpipes under his plaid shirt. Sitting behind his desk, he comes across as a strong, masculine presence, a leader, and someone, one senses, not to be lightly crossed. But there's also a sense of warmth and caring about him, which is good, because at the moment he's struggling hard to keep control.
On the morning of Aug. 31, 1984, three members of the Rolling 60s Crips street gang drove up to his mother's home in South-Central Los Angeles. While one gang member stayed in the van with the engine running, two others went in the front door with a .30-caliber M-1 semiautomatic carbine. When they came out five minutes later, Alexander's mother, Ebora Alexander, 58, was dead on the kitchen floor in her nightgown and slippers. His 24-year-old sister, Dietra Alexander, had been shot sitting up in bed. Two of his nephews, Damani Garner and Damon Bonner, had been shot in their heads as they slept.
For three years, Alexander tried not to think about the murders. But now that the trials are finally over and the killers at last convicted, long-suppressed feelings have begun to come out. Frankly, he tells his visitor, he doesn't know how to deal with them. The mourning process is just beginning. And, he says, his voice beginning to break, "I'm just not going to talk about it."
He brings up a lot more, but in his agitation it's hard to follow all that he's saying. He makes cryptic references to things that were said and done in the wake of the killings. One day, he says, he's going to have to deal with it. But he can't say anything now. He grew up there. "My family still lives there." And the fact of the matter is, "someone could get killed."
KERMIT'S MOTHER, Ebora Alexander, was born far from the violence of South-Central Los Angeles. She grew up in Louisiana, left school in the eighth grade, was married at age 16 and eventually had 11 children. Money was tight, and the family lost its house. She and her husband divorced. But Ebora sent all the kids to parochial schools. The girls didn't date until they were 18. On Friday nights, the family watched Kermit play football. Then on Saturday mornings Ebora would get everyone up early to clean the house. On Saturday nights, the kids went to confession at St. Columbkille Catholic Church, where Ebora ironed the altar linens and volunteered on bingo nights. The rest of the week, she worked at St. Vincent's Hospital at 3rd and Alvarado streets, where she prepared salads and special diet trays.
Her children always called her "Madee"--family shorthand for "Mother Dear." For the last 20 years she had lived in a rented house on West 59th Street, a friendly family street lined with tall palms. In the years following World War II, it had been a good place to raise a family, but recently the neighborhood had gone downhill. Vacant lots were littered with junked cars and discarded sofas. There was so much gunfire that one time Ebora made the family lie on the floor until the police helicopter began circling overhead. Her daughters had been urging her to buy a house somewhere else, but she didn't want to leave her church parish.
As a result, on Friday, Aug. 31, she was still living on 59th Street. In a back bedroom, her son Neal Alexander, 33, was asleep with one of her grandsons, Ivan Bonner, 13. In a front bedroom her youngest daughter, Dietra, was asleep with two other visiting grandchildren, Damani, 13, and Damon, 8.
As she did every morning, on Aug. 31 Ebora Alexander got up at dawn, laid out her clothes and watered the potted plants on the front porch. It was a hot morning, and she left the door open. She was in the kitchen pouring herself a cup of coffee when suddenly two strangers burst through the screen door and started shooting.
THIRTY BLOCKS TO THE SOUTH,Damon's younger brother and sister were at home asleep. His mother, Daphine Bonner, was lying in bed watching the sun shining through the blinds.
Just as she was about to get up, her oldest son, Ivan, called on the telephone, talking so fast it was hard to follow the rush of words. "Mama, Mama. Something bad has happened. Some men came in the house and shot Madee, Dietra and Damani. And Mama, he shot Damon."
DAPHINE BONNERis a pretty, oval-faced woman, open, cheerful and voluble as a mountain spring. Today, as she sits on the couch in the cluttered den of her house in South-Central Los Angeles, her two young children run in and out through the front door.