|The LookOut columns
|What I Say
By Frank J. Gruber
Using the locution testifiers at public meetings often use to certify the worth of their opinions, I am a "23-year resident of Santa Monica." I've been involved in local politics for fifteen years, and I've been writing this column for almost six. But I'll admit that at times I have thought myself an interloper.
Until this weekend.
I remember the first time I attended a public hearing in Santa Monica. The topic was the future of what was then the SMASH school, at Fourth and Raymond, half a block from the house I was renting with my future wife. I was surprised that a lot of people who spoke at the meeting didn't call the school "SMASH." They called it the Washington School, and they had gone there for elementary school. Some of their parents had gone there, too.
Wow, I thought, those are real Santa Monicans. Who am I but some fellow passing through?
Mind, it didn't take me long to get to love Santa Monica, and not just because of the beach or the sunsets. But is loving it the same as being (one with) it?
There was a moment this weekend, the weekend of Eddie López's funeral, when, looking around the packed pews of St. Monica's Church, I declared to myself that I was home. Why? Because looking around at those who had come to mourn Eddie López, I saw so many faces that had come to mean so much to me over these 23 years.
P.T.A. parents; little league and soccer coaches; politicians, school administrators and teachers, police I recognized, and many, many children my son has grown up with, some of whom I coached in AYSO; they all came to mourn Eddie, and to celebrate him, and to gather their strength after taking such a bitter blow.
* * *
Eddie's farewell began Friday afternoon at Santa Monica High School, under a tree, where his mother, Arminda López, told several hundred students to love each other.
I hope never to be in Arminda López's shoes, but if I were, I doubt I would have her grace and generosity. But the students of Samohi organized a march Friday from the school to 26th and Pico where, shamefully, Eddie was gunned down. They asked Arminda López to speak, and she did.
As the students marched, a few of them chanted. "What do we want -- PEACE; when do we want it -- NOW!" I remember that one, from when I was a high school protestor myself, marching against a war on the other side of the world. What did we know about war? These kids Friday were marching against a war at home, a war they know well.
Another chant: "Don't be silent; stop the violence." Let's repeat that one. "Don't be silent; stop the violence." I am trying to be like Arminda López, but I am too angry. "Don't be silent; stop the violence." How can we shame the gangsters? The violence glorifiers? The lovers of destruction?
At the end of the march I was speaking with Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Temple Beth Shir Sholom, when School Board member Oscar de la Torre introduced us to a former gang member, Arturo, who had spoken earlier in the day to a group of "at-risk" children at John Adams Middle School about staying out of gangs.
Arturo himself had been shot three times as a gang member. He described being in a gang as an addiction and that how being out of the gang life was a "one day at a time" thing. In fact, addictions are cumulative. He said that "99.9" percent of gang members were drug addicts or alcoholics.
Arturo himself had been in a recovery program for two years, and he said that maintaining his sobriety, and the profound change in his life that sobriety entailed, was inextricably connected with getting out of the gang life. He could not be sober if he could not tell his old friends he would not back them up in a fight, and he could not tell that to his friends if he were not sober.
Like alcoholics who need to hit bottom before admitting to their illness, until gang members are shamed into the realization that there is no glory in their gang lives, but only misery and hurt, they will not ask for help.
* * *
Friday night, at St. Monica's, there was a vigil that I did not attend. But 1,300 members of our community did, to "speak to Eddie." When was the last time in Santa Monica 1,300 people showed up at a City Council hearing, or a political rally, or a community workshop?
* * *
Saturday was the funeral. As I wrote before, the pews were packed. Until this year I had never been to a Catholic funeral, at least not one I can remember; this year I've been to three -- at St. Anne's for the young men murdered at the Moose Lodge, at St. Monica's for Ricardo Crocker, the police offer and marine killed in Iraq, and now Eddie López.
Father Lloyd Torgerson said of Arminda López that "her strength and love would be forever written in our hearts."
Eddie's baseball coach recounted how Eddie was a leader, and also the team's dispenser of nicknames.
Arminda López told us, "take care of your sons, please. Please."
I will remember their words -- and the throngs who mourned Eddie -- the next time I read that the top three concerns of Santa Monicans are too many homeless, too much traffic, and not enough parking.
You see, I am angry. The liturgy was inspiring, but it did not lessen my anger. This has been going on too long. Not just in Santa Monica; and I know Santa Monica has a gang problem nowhere near the worst. But tell me, what kind of civilization is this?
All right, "Thy kingdom come" is not a theological concept I dwell upon, but even if I am angry I can love, too, and I held hands with my bench-mates when a young woman from the St. Monica Youth Choir with a golden voice sang the Lord's Prayer.
I love my neighbors. They love each other, too. How can we tolerate decades and decades of violence?
* * *
I did not attend the graveside service, but walked over to Santa Monica High School from my house at 1:30 for the reception the school hosted in the cafeteria. My father, an anthropologist, always told me that funerals are for the living, and I have never heard of any religion or culture that doesn't end a funeral with a meal.
This one was particularly beautiful, probably because you rarely see so many healthy and hopeful young people at a funeral. The message of the funeral meal is, of course, "life goes on."
Life goes on. But that doesn't mean it has to repeat itself.
Don't forget: Community Forum on Gang Violence Update: Saturday, March 18, 2006,10 AM to Noon, John Adams Middle School, 2425 Sixteenth Street. To RSVP or for more information, contact Hilda Garcia at (310) 441-9084 or email@example.com
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