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Hannah Bell murder remains tragic mystery

Teenage Black girls increasing target of violence

Sikivu Hutchinson | 4/4/2019, midnight
There are no accessible youth community centers in...

There are no accessible youth community centers in the over half-mile stretch, where 15-year-old Hannah Bell was killed in April, 2018 in front of a South L.A. hamburger stand, on Western Avenue and 78th Street.

Out for a bite to eat, Bell and her mom, Samantha Mays, were engaging in a familiar weekend ritual that should have been one of ordinary, average mother-daughter togetherness. Instead, she became one of the scores of African-American youth slain on Los Angeles streets without any leads on their killers.

At a spring 2018 press conference, and vigil organized to commemorate Hannah and call for the apprehension of her killer, her family and friends highlighted the irony of national focus on the Parkland, Fla. mass shootings when gun violence disproportionately impacts working class African-American communities. Bell’s brother commented that, “If we’re supposed to be this great ‘sanctuary state’ we need to make sure it’s a safe place for our kids.” Hannah had “great, positive role models. They were all headed to college, they were all learning. She was a great person.”

Nearly a year later, Bell’s murder remains unsolved. The city’s offer of a $50,000 reward for information on her killing is still in play. The corner where she was slain bustles with “normal” activity.

It is not normal for a child to be killed at virtually point blank range on a busy street at nighttime. Hannah, like 7- year-old Jazmine Barnes, whose recent murder in Houston, Texas elicited national outrage when it was reported that she was potentially targeted by a White killer, was more than likely killed by someone from the community. By a person who knew that targeting a Black girl from the neighborhood would probably not elicit national attention.

A student at nearby LAUSD Santee High School, Hannah lived in an area that is notoriously bereft of safe, culturally responsive spaces for young people. Though violent homicides have purportedly declined in Los Angeles, Black women and girls remain disproportionately vulnerable to gun violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence in greater numbers.

The nexus of these issues makes basic safety in school communities and neighborhoods a pressing Black feminist concern. Being deprived of the right to patronize local businesses safely is not an issue that White students have to contend with in L.A.’s Westside and Valley neighborhoods. This, and the constant specter of an early death, or sexual violence victimization, are not issues that define the mental health and wellness of White children. Yet, Black girls must navigate these traumas in their everyday lives while they are still expected to be high-functioning, mega-strong caregivers conditioned to meet the needs of others before themselves.

During a recent feminist of color mental health institute for Black and Latina girls from three South L.A. high schools, students identified stress from caregiving, violence, and harassment (at school and online) as being the most pressing issues they confront on a daily basis. In intergenerational workshops with Shaunelle Curry, founder of Media Done Responsibly, and storyteller/poet Jaden Fields, they discussed self-care and community empowerment strategies, and explored the power of creative writing as healing and resistance, drawing upon Black lesbian poet Audre Lourde’s maxim about self-care as a political act.