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Killings that don't make the headlines deserve our outrage too

One more 'very, very innocent victim' dies in L.A., and the epidemic of black-on-black homicide rages on, scarcely noticed except by the grieving.

August 23, 2013|Sandy Banks
  • Bijan Shoushtari at his senior prom; he was fatally shot Aug. 3 while driving with friends on Crenshaw Boulevard. Neither he nor his friends had any gang ties, police say.
Bijan Shoushtari at his senior prom; he was fatally shot Aug. 3 while driving… (Daphney Duke )

Marsha Jones Shoushtari went back to work on Tuesday, two weeks after her youngest child, her only son, died after being shot on Crenshaw Boulevard.

But she can't escape the unfinished business that homicides entail.

On Tuesday, police visited her office to return her son's cellphone, the "effects" of an 18-year-old. On Wednesday, she and husband Manochehr visited the cemetery to arrange for their son's burial; the coroner had just released the body.

Interactive map and database: The Homicide Report 

Through it all, some part of her is trying to believe this might not be real. "He cannot be gone. This is crazy," she told her brother, when he called to check on her this week.

But it is real. And it's also crazy.

"It's like if you or I were driving up the street and being shot at," said LAPD homicide detective Sal LaBarbera.

Bijan Shoushtari was riding in a buddy's tricked-out classic Buick on a Saturday night when a car pulled up alongside and someone fired shots. Bijan was hit and died two days later at Cedars-Sinai. Neither Bijan nor the friends with him had ever been in trouble or had any affiliation with gangs.

"He could have been my kid," LaBarbera said. "Or yours. He was a very, very innocent victim."

So why are we not as outraged about the death of Bijan Shoushtari as we were about the death of Trayvon Martin?

::

His family printed 500 programs for Bijan's memorial service last week, and the booklets ran out as quickly as the seats.

Westminster Presbyterian Church was packed. People crowded the balcony, lined the aisles, filled the hallways, parlor, and choir room and spilled down the front steps onto the sidewalk along Jefferson Boulevard.

I crammed myself into a niche that smelled faintly of marijuana, next to a teenage boy wearing a baseball cap backward and crying unashamedly. It was the sort of crowd where it didn't seem odd for a stoic old man in a yarmulke to help a sobbing young stranger, decorated with tattoos, settle her restless toddlers.

Bijan's oldest sister, Samantha Shoushtari, told me she was surprised by the turnout. "I didn't realize so many people knew my brother."

But it wasn't just her little brother they had come to mourn. They were grieving a loss of innocence; her family's and their own.

Bijan was captain of the football team at Hamilton High, but known more for his compassion off the field than his performance on it. At his graduation ceremony in May, he cartwheeled across the stage to exuberant applause.

He'd sung in the church choir since he was 3 and served as an acolyte through his teens. He was the self-appointed guardian of seniors, pushing their wheelchairs through the sanctuary and teaching them to use their cellphones and computers.

"By no means was he perfect," said Samantha, 26. He had an insatiable appetite for infuriating pranks. "But he was just the sweetest, sweetest person. ... He was going places and doing things. That's why it hurts so much."

The family has lived for 25 years just west of Crenshaw Boulevard and a few miles from where Bijan was shot, on a block of well-tended homes, where lace curtains flutter softly behind windows covered by bars.

The area's been through ups and downs, but Bijan never seemed scared. He was the guy who'd walk worried neighbors and little kids to the corner store.

::

Several detectives have been assigned to the case and LaBarbera is optimistic they'll ultimately make an arrest.

But solving the crime won't solve a problem that's bigger than the fatal shooting of one good kid.

Homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men in this country. The vast majority are killed by other black men armed with guns.

Many of the victims are doing nothing more than going about their lives — walking home from a party, sitting on the front porch, riding down a busy street on an uneventful night.

Yet our outrage seems reserved for those whose stories offer convenient villains or provide political fodder.

Five years ago, there was Jamiel Shaw, a good kid with doting parents whose murder by a Latino gang member became a battle cry for foes of illegal immigration.

Three years ago, when Oscar Grant was slain by a transit officer in Oakland, we rallied and rioted to protest brutality by police.

And when Trayvon Martin was gunned down in Florida and his killer acquitted, the specter of racism moved that case onto the national agenda.

But there seems to be disturbing silence about the epidemic killing of young black men by one another — crimes that often go unsolved because of fear, complacency, numbness and the sheer weight of the numbers.

Interactive map and database: The Homicide Report 

The Shoushtari family doesn't want Bijan's death to fall to the bottom of that stack. They're offering a scholarship in his name and want to start a campaign to help get guns off the street.

But the problem goes deeper than that.

"Something is lacking," said Bijan's uncle, Mark Jones. "There are morals that go along with just being human... If these young men experienced the kind of love that nurtured Bijan, they wouldn't be out shooting people. They wouldn't need to belong to gangs."

Listen to LaBarbera and you get the feeling that love is not enough: "You just bang your head and try to figure out why… and it comes down to nothing."

He tries to talk with young shooters. "I want to know where their heads are. It's insane. There is no logic to it. We were drinking, we got stoned, we were bored…"

The same sort of inane excuse was offered up in the killing of an Australian student in Oklahoma.

"We see it all the time," LaBarbera said. "The suspects, when we catch them, they're not remorseful. They're going to prison and they don't seem bothered by that."

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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