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CRENSHAW : Panthers Firefighter Killed in Shooting

March 20, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY

Maurice White, an original member of the South-Central Panthers firefighting team, died March 5 from gunshot wounds inflicted during a party in South-Central Los Angeles. He was 25.

Newton Division police said White was shot when a fight broke out at a house party on East 22nd Street. It was unclear if White was directly involved in the dispute. No arrests had been made as of Friday.

White's violent death is in sharp contrast to his work in the Panthers, a group that came to symbolize the possibility for peaceful coexistence and team spirit among former gang members. White joined the Panthers last June when the job training program, co-sponsored by the U.S. Forestry Service, became available through the Crenshaw-based L.A. Unemployed Council.

The two dozen Panthers quickly attracted media attention because the one-time rival gang members learned to work side by side in life-threatening situations. The Panthers received national media coverage last fall when the team spent 16-hour days battling the disastrous Malibu and Altadena fires.

White was one of the most inspirational members of the team, recalled fellow Panther Clinzell Washington.

"If he saw you down, he would help you, pump you up, keep you going," said Washington. "He gave you this feeling that if he could do it, so could you."

White, a student at Compton College who said he most enjoyed philosophy courses, was also remembered for his constant espousing of black pride and discussions of how to improve conditions in African American communities. He frequently sported African beads, earrings and other jewelry. Panther Clifton Dunlap said White saw the Panthers as a perfect opportunity for black people to come together.

"We might have had our differences, but we worked together," Dunlap said. "Maurice always thought positively about the black community. He used to work so hard fighting fires he'd always sleep the whole way back home on the bus. But he was a great motivator. We truly lost our brother."

White's last assignment with the Panthers was early last month, when the crew was called on to help distribute food and other disaster relief among earthquake victims in South-Central.

"He asked me then, 'Why do people here only get crackers and water, and other places they get so much more?' " Dunlap said. "He was always aware that things weren't equal, that there was so much to be done in South-Central."

But White didn't get the chance to do any of the things he had talked about doing, said girlfriend Nicole Ennis. "He talked most about setting up something for kids, young people," she said. "He had so many intentions. . . ."

Maurice's mother, Barbara White, said her son's greatest asset proved to be his downfall. "He loved his friends and his homeys," she said. "He couldn't separate himself from them when he needed to."

White is also survived by a brother, Rayfus Jr.; a sister, Kimberly Nakia Stewart, and a daughter, Mahogany.

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