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Devotion to Peace Pays Off for a 'Born Leader'

Onetime gang member is described as a key figure in urging a calm response to the Inglewood police trial.

August 03, 2003|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

Sometime during the first hours after a mistrial was declared in the Inglewood police-abuse trial last week, Khalid Shah paused to appreciate the scene at the unusual command center that had throbbed to life that afternoon in the offices of the nonprofit foundation he runs.

Shah, 49, who long ago left behind the life of a gang leader and felon to earn his living as a respected peacemaker, watched as officers from the Los Angeles and Inglewood police departments worked alongside volunteer "peace ambassadors."

Some in the crowded conference room of the Stop the Violence, Increase the Peace Foundation, which Shah founded 14 years ago, had past gang affiliations. Representatives from the U.S. Justice Department were there, along with members of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, among others, working phones and laptops.

The goal of everyone in the room was to see that calm prevailed in the city, no matter how people felt about the trial's outcome.

And, by day's end, it was clear that the group's yearlong planning efforts had been successful. Despite widespread disappointment and anger, police reported there was no trial-related violence in Inglewood or in neighboring communities.

Some Inglewood leaders credit Shah with pushing for the coalition that helped prepare residents to cope with what turned out to be an unsatisfactory outcome for many.

The peaceful response was especially heartening to Shah, who spent his 20s in state prison but, through his foundation, has since devoted his life to trying to stem the violence that has plagued poor minority neighborhoods and to steering young people away from gangs.

"He has turned his life around," said black activist Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope, "and he has set an example for me and others to turn our lives around."

On verdict day, Shah said he got a glimpse of fulfillment.

"It was a beautiful sight to see all these people come together, to see our youth talking with our police officers, to see the enthusiasm of hundreds of volunteers," Shah said.

He had helped form the Inglewood Peace and Fairness Coalition shortly after the videotaped confrontation between Inglewood officers and 16-year-old Donovan Jackson in July 2002 sparked outrage around the nation.

The videotape -- shot by a bystander -- showed Jeremy Morse, a white officer who has since been fired, lifting Jackson, who is black, and slamming him onto the trunk of a police car before punching him in the face.

On Tuesday, jurors found Morse's then-partner, Bijan Darvish, not guilty of filing a false police report on the arrest. But the panel deadlocked -- seven favoring a guilty verdict, five opposed -- on the assault charge against Morse.

The following day, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley announced that his office would retry the Morse case.

"I am so proud of our community for not compounding one injustice with another," Shah said.

Like others in the coalition of religious, political, business and law enforcement leaders, residents and community organizations, Shah had worried about a possible repeat of the deadly rioting that shook Los Angeles in 1992, after an all-white jury failed to convict any of the LAPD officers caught on videotape in the beating of black motorist Rodney G. King.

Shah said his concerns grew when, a few days after the Jackson incident, several hundred demonstrators showed up at Inglewood City Hall demanding justice.

"I heard things like 'Burn it down' and 'No justice, no peace,' and I began to worry about the message that was getting out to our young people," Shah said. "Many of us felt we wanted to change that message to 'Peace, no matter what.'

"We wanted to show that it is OK to be angry, OK to be outraged even, but it is not OK to resort to violence and destroy your community, your homes, your jobs," he said. "There are other ways to fight injustice that don't hurt the community."

Helping recast the message was a task that the articulate, tireless Shah was amply suited to accomplish, say many of those who know him.

"He has a lot of standing in the community, and he used that standing in a very positive way to talk with great sensitivity about two difficult positions -- the concerns about violence and also the concerns of the community and how to acknowledge them and deal with them," said Ronald K. Wakabayashi of the U.S. Justice Department.

Wakabayashi worked closely with the coalition to formulate and carry out plans to ensure a peaceful response to the verdict.

Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt F. Dorn called Shah "a born leader; there isn't any question about it."

"The coalition was a combination of many organizations and many individuals working together with one common goal. I am most pleased with the work they did," Dorn said. "And, in my opinion, it was Khalid Shah who was the force behind bringing them together and keeping them together and keeping them focused."

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