Sunday's paper made for some pretty tough reading. It was hard to concentrate on anything but the picture of Denise Silva. After every story I read, it pulled me back like a magnet. There she is, with brown bangs and a big bow and chiffon sleeves, her arms around her year-old sister, Stephanie.
Or there she was, anyway.
Denise was gunned down in Boyle Heights on Friday night. She was walking with her father to the corner market, holding his hand. They were very close to home when two men, presumably gang members, opened fire. Denise took a bullet through the heart. She was 3 years old.
Denise was the second Los Angeles child in three days to be sacrificed to the insanity of gang warfare. While riding in a car Wednesday morning, Sabrina Haley was shot in the head in South Los Angeles. She died six hours later. Like Denise, her daddy was at her side when she was shot.
A month before that, it was 5-year-old Adrian Benitez, struck in the head by a falling bullet as he ran from his mother toward his father. The bullet, it turned out, had been shot into the air, at nothing in particular, by a 15-year-old half a mile away.
As I drove home from work on the day Sabrina was killed, a nebulous thought finally crystallized: We are not safe. These children were all shot in the presence of their parents.
For the first time, I feel that no child of mine will ever, as long as I live here, have the worry-free kind of childhood that I did. For the first time, I feel that something precious has been lost.
I am furious and I am scared.
I grew up in Northridge, during a time that seems so far away that I feel as though I've made it up. Back then, you didn't need the Santa Ana winds to tell you that you were in a valley.
On windy days, tumbleweeds rolled down the middle of the street; on still nights, you could smell the orange blossoms.
It was a regular old suburban childhood of the kind that seems a nostalgic dream. Today, I see that my old school, Cleveland High, has the highest dropout rate in the Valley. In my day, it was not remarkable for anything in particular, just its averageness.
As kids, we felt safe enough to roam the streets on our bikes, safe enough to stay out all night on toilet-papering excursions that took us--on foot--from Northridge to Chatsworth to decorate the trees of our favorite teacher's house. And we felt safe enough--even if our parents had no inkling--to hitchhike over the canyons to Malibu for some coastal relief when the Valley sizzled in the summer.
Nothing much ever went wrong. Our lives were sunny. The most horrible thing to happen to anyone we knew was divorce.
Today, divorce is the least of it. The violence has us hostage.
What is the solution? I am at as great a loss as anyone.
We used to be able to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that the people in charge were doing something to help. That notion is as outdated as the tumbleweeds.
Nothing I read leads me to believe that the people in whom we have placed our trust and our confidence are offering any meaningful solutions. All we get lately are bad news and scandal.
Nearly three weeks ago, Los Angeles County Chief Probation Officer Barry Nidorf floated a proposal to close 19 of the county's 20 juvenile probation camps, which house about 4,500 junior criminals. The move would put most of them back on the streets, at an annual savings to the county of $40 million. No price tag was put on the danger to the public.
Days later, Nidorf asked the supervisors to approve construction of a $172,000 swimming pool at the one remaining camp. Interesting perk for juvenile delinquents.
About the same time Nidorf was trying to save the county $40 million by putting thousands of felons back on the streets--many incarcerated for drive-by shootings or gang-related mayhem--we got some other interesting financial news.
We learned that the county has paid a consulting firm more than $1 million to raise funds for a new hospital construction program, and that large chunks of the money went for such luxuries as leather couches and a granite conference table.
We learned that the good ol' boy leaseholders of county land in Marina del Rey have such unconscionably favorable supervisor-approved lease agreements that the county has essentially deprived its coffers of perhaps $35 million to $60 million a year.
We are giving away money in lopsided contracts and perquisites for the business elite while agencies such as the Probation Department say they can't maintain reasonable service.
Bullets, not bad priorities, killed Denise Silva, Sabrina Haley and Adrian Benitez. But you wonder if we spent our money differently just how much safer our streets might be.
We can't turn back the clock. The innocent childhood, at least in Los Angeles, is a thing of the past. But for the children, there has to be a point at which we say enough guns, enough violence.
Why not now?