Los Angeles, CA — Maurio Proctor, 22, and two friends were standing on Proctor’s grandmother’s porch in the Jordan Downs housing projects in Watts when an unidentified car spotted the trio and made a sharp U-turn.

“They drove up to my son and his friends and fired 17 rounds,” said Reggie Sims, Proctor’s father, who said the shooting occurred on Jan. 28, 2008. “Three of (the) bullets hit my son. One struck him behind the right ear, one on the right arm and another on his shoulder and in his thigh. He died instantly.”

Sims said that Maurio’s girlfriend was pregnant at the time. The baby was born two weeks after his death.

From Compton to Watts, from Lynwood to South Los Angeles, young Black men are losing their lives to gun violence nearly every week, a situation that leaves family members grieving and groping for answers.

The murder of young Black men has reached national proportions. The National Urban League’s 2007 executive summary stated that the murder rate for Black males over 25 is nearly 7 times that of White males. It also reported that Black men under 25 years of age are 15 times more likely to die by homicide than their White counterparts.

Sims said that Maurio’s death shocked and devastated his family. “After he died, my wife Annette and daughter Regina would wake up in the middle of the night crying,” said Sims, a gang interventionist in the Jordan Downs Housing Project and a member of the Watts Gang Task Force. I finally moved the family to Harbor City. I didn’t want to lose another son to gun violence.”

Sims said the family received some relief when detectives notified him a few months later and said that their son’s killers had been apprehended. “They arrested the driver, Daniel Colvin, and the shooter, Cedric Johnson. Colvin received fifty years plus two life sentences and Johnson received fifty years plus three life sentences. They’ll never get out of prison,” said Sims, shaking his head.

Police said that 70% to 80% of the shootings are gang related. “There are some gang tensions,” said LAPD Sgt. Lloyd Scott. “Some suspects get away with the murders, but for the most part, we catch most of them. Last year, we had a clearance rate of 83%.”

Lt. Lyle Prideaux, an officer in the homicide section of the LAPD Watts criminal gang homicide unit, said that although gun murders are down, they still continue. “I’ve gone to 60 to 65 murders,” said Prideaux, who has worked in homicide for nearly two years. “Usually the gunfire is the result of gang feuds over narcotics.”

He said that many of the gun shootings can be traced to gang initiations where suspects are ordered to kill another person. “That’s one way the gang tests you to see whether or not they can trust you,” said Lt. Liam Gallagher of LAPD’s robbery/homicide division. “If you commit a murder, you can’t snitch on the gang because they’ll always have something on you.”

Lt. Darnell Davenport, officer in charge of the gang impact team at Southwest Division, said there are myriad reasons why gun violence continues to decimate inner city communities. “Shootings occur when one gang member sees a rival gang member on his turf. They’re thinking, ‘What is he doing in my neighborhood?’ Consequently, a confrontation occurs that culminates in a shooting.
In other instances, there are retaliatory shootings where gang members go to the rival gang’s neighborhood seeking the persons responsible for an earlier shooting. If they can’t find the persons responsible, they look for a victim and shoot them in response to an earlier incident. Then there are the gang members who want to establish a name for themselves within the gang-so they go out and commit a shooting.”

In recent months, gun violence has escalated in the Lennox section of the city. On Feb. 2, gunfire erupted at a candlelight vigil for Gregory Thomas, a 37-year-old alleged gang member.

Around 7:25 p.m., a lone gunman approached the crowd at Budlong Avenue and 103rd Street and fired multiple shots, striking three victims.

Two of the victims, Keith Orange, 45, of Los Angeles, and Joe Carver, 26, of Carson died at the scene. The third victim was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

Lawanda Hawkins, founder of Justice for Murdered Children (JFMC), a group Hawkins founded to assist grieving family members whose children have been murdered by gun violence, lost her 19-year-old son, Reginald Lakeith Reese on Dec. 6, 1995. “He was a hardworking young man who had recently graduated from San Pedro High School. He was working with the boats on the pier.
The police said he was robbed coming home from work. He was shot and killed execution style. His case has never been solved,” said Hawkins revealing that she is still dealing with the pain of his loss.

Hawkins said that Reginald was her only child. “I wake up every day thinking that his murder is just a dream, but then I realize that he’s not here.”

Hawkins believes that the shootings of young black men are being overlooked and underreported. “There’s a tremendous amount of shooting going on, but the police don’t want to talk about it,” said Hawkins. “When one of our kids is killed, law enforcement and the community as a whole say, ‘Was he a drug dealer or a gangbanger?’ They blame the victim rather than the perpetrator.” Hawkins stated that she partially started JFMC to help family members cope with the law and the court system.

Hawkins, whose group meets the first Saturday of every month at the LAPD 77th division police station, shared that she is saddened by the number of grieving new faces that have joined her organization in the past 12 months. “To tell you the truth, I hate to see a new member join. The only way you become a member of Justice for Murdered Children is if you lose a child.”

Los Angeles resident Marcia Holmes lost her only daughter, aspiring actress Ashley Cheval, on Aug. 25, 2006. “Ashley was sitting in a car with friends on Western near Vernon Avenues in front of Kragen’s Auto Parts when gang members opened fire on her vehicle. Ashley was shot once in the head and her male passenger was shot several times.”

Ashley died instantly reported Holmes, leaving behind a four-year-old daughter.

The mother said she has found some solace since police detectives eventually caught the suspects who received life sentences. “I wanted them to receive the death penalty because they gave my daughter a death sentence,” said Holmes. “They left Ashley with no option as to whether she wanted to live or die.”

The murder of a loved one slain by gun violence is an enduring pain that never goes away states Holmes. “For the first three years after my daughter’s death, I was totally numb,” admitted Holmes. “I tried to attend meetings regarding gang violence to understand the mentality that is going on.”

Shortly after her daughter’s death, Holmes invited gang members to a community meeting to question them about the spate of gun violence that was so prevalent in the Black community. “A lot of them said they did not like the gangster lifestyle, but they didn’t have any other alternative,” reported Holmes. “There were no jobs available for them.”

Taking their responses to heart, Holmes drafted a proposal that would demand mandatory life skills classes for mothers and at-risk youth. “It would provide some tools for them to deal with their anger and frustration. I also wrote in the proposal that there should be more opportunities available for at-risk young men, such as training and jobs.”

As for the gun violence that continues to decimate the Black community, Holmes said, “I think it’s painful and heartwrenching. My daughter’s murder still hurts, but I have to function and remain strong because I am raising her daughter.”