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Remembering Victims, and Pleading for Peace

September 29, 2002|ERIKA HAYASAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Mothers and men sobbed as Brenda Florence, a sorrowful yet resilient parent, spoke with her eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses in front of the Inglewood City Hall on Saturday.

"Somehow or another, we must go on," she told the crowd of nearly 50 people, including many parents of slain children, who gathered to remember Florence's three sons, who were killed within a week of one another last year.

Former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks and Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn also attended the rally, sponsored by the Stop the Violence, Increase the Peace Foundation.

The tribute was also a plea to the community, made by parents, activists and church leaders, to remember other victims and prevent further bloodshed.

"We have all been touched by violence," said Parks, whose granddaughter, Lori Gonzalez, was killed on May 28, 2000, an innocent bystander caught between two gangs in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in southwest Los Angeles.

Three white candles were positioned in front of the podium, which was decorated with pictures of Florence's three sons. Christopher Florence, 21, was shot on Sept. 28, 2001, as he was driving in Inglewood. Two days later, his brothers Torry, 29, and Michael, 27, were shot as they waited inside a car at a red light. The three brothers were not gang members, according to police.

Four pictures of other victims were positioned against a wall in front of the City Hall. One was of Parks' granddaughter. Another showed a man named Steven Eric Gray, and it read: "Aug. 24, 1966 to June 22, 2002." One photo showed a smiling boy, with the words "My Beloved Mijo" written on top of the frame. The fourth showed a young man, Tony Scott, who was killed Aug. 3, 1998. The word "unsolved" was written beneath his portrait.

Sharon Johnson said she can relate to Florence's pain, although she said losing three children at once must be unbearable.

Johnson clutched photos of her son, Andre Morgan, showing his junior high school graduation and the moment he kissed his baby sister in the hospital right after she was born.

Morgan, a Crenshaw High School senior and honor roll student, was killed Nov. 26, 2001, after a gunman approached him in the 600 block of East Arbor Vitae Street and shot him repeatedly.

A sad and bitter father, Carlos Monroe, distributed fliers asking for information on the slaying of his son, Ezzat "Darrin" Monroe, 18. Monroe was a football and basketball player and swimmer. He was shot Aug. 24, 2002, in a parking lot, and he died the next day.

Gloria Montana, who lost her 19-year-old son, Phillip Shaw, on March 7, 1997, approached Florence after the ceremony. "I just want you to know, I understand what you are going through. I had a son too," she said. "It will never be the same." The two women hugged and cried.

Khalid Shah, executive director of the Stop the Violence, Increase the Peace, a nonprofit group that works with at-risk youth and provides victims' assistance, called the deaths examples of "urban terrorism." He said such killings deserve as much attention as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or the videotaped beating of an Inglewood teenager by police.

At the end of the ceremony, Mayor Dorn promised to begin plans to build a monument in Inglewood that will feature the names of victims lost to violence.

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