December 3, 2016
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Murder Memorials Raise Questions

 Black Voice News, News Report, Chris Levister

SAN BERNARDINO, CA - 15-year-old Jett knelt at this shrine of liquor bottles, half smoked blunts (street name used to describe a marijuana and tobacco cigar), glass and metal pipes used to smoke crack cocaine and methamphetamine, a wooden cross, flowers, stuffed animals and burned out candles. He wept and shook his head. You could see it in his eyes; that look of loss and utter hopelessness, that gaze of unrelenting emotional anguish. Jett (his last name withheld to protect his identity) was among a parade of youth who came to mourn one of their own - 16-year-old Taj Yohance Carraway gunned down August 13.

“He was my ‘stickman’,” Jett said of his friend, neighbor and San Bernardino High School classmate. “He was going back to school getting his life back together.” School officials confirm Carraway had enrolled. He was shot 2 days into the school year.

“Gunfire, drive by’s, ganging, it’s a way of life around here,” said Jett.

Carraway’s lifeless body was found in a vacant lot a few hundred yards from his home across the street from Rosa Maria’s restaurant on North Sierra Way and 42nd Street in San Bernardino.

Police say the shooting was likely gang related. The neighborhood is a hotspot for drug dealing, prostitution and gang violence. This is the second deadly shooting in this part of town in the past three weeks.

On July 27, one man was killed and two others wounded in a late night drive by shooting on 46th Street. Police say the shootings appeared to be in retaliation. All three men were known gang members.

Asha Carraway says her son was shot in the middle of the street by 2 men because they apparently resented his friendship with a member of a competing gang. She, his father Taj Carraway Sr. and Taj’s three siblings live in the Hillcrest apartment complex a few hundred yards from where young Taj was shot.

“My son smoked weed, and drank alcohol but he was not a gang member.

Some of his best friends were members of the notorious Crips and Bloods street gangs. He knew the code of the street. When trouble broke out, he knew how to negotiate a peaceful solution. He was a natural peacemaker,” said Carraway.

“The liquor bottles, marijuana, and gang graffiti in his shrine are a fitting tribute to his memory.”

“He didn’t gangbang,” said his cousin 17-year-old Ashley Cook.

“He was a peacemaker.”

“It’s hard to explain in a strange way he was a victim of his own quest for peace in the streets, recalled Shanda who attended middle school with Taj.

“He would step in the middle of a gang fight as if he was protected by a spiritual force. He would openly talk about the evils of street violence and how much heroism is required to survive, let alone escape the hood,” said Shanda.

“He was one of the few people who rival gangs respected and trusted,” said Elijah Lewis a former gang member who runs a boot camp for troubled boys. “He lived and played amid the scum yet beneath his tough demeanor he was soft, lonely and scared. In his own misunderstood way he was an anointed peacemaker.”

In an all too familiar scene that is being played out across city neighborhoods in San Bernardino’s bucket- of-blood summer, this time it was North Sierra Way’s turn to erect a memorial for a murdered neighbor.

The impromptu shrines usually in plain view serve as a commentary – sometimes the family’s and community’s only available obituary on the manner of death. These shrines serve as both a memorial and a protest – a crying out of “why?” in a visible way that can’t be ignored.

Kendra remembers Taj as big kid who wanted to stop the violence. “I think he drank and smoked because that was his way of surviving in the war zone. He used to say “only reverence can restrain violence.”

Solutions to curtailing the city’s summer of violence were not easily at hand. Seventy-two percent of adult males living in this cluster of projects lack a job that pays a living wage. Over half have been in trouble with the law.

“In violence we forget who we are. After a while it becomes routine,” said Jason who lives a block from where Taj was murdered.

Residents in this war zone react differently to the violence, officials say. Some quickly sign up for neighborhood patrols and try to bring others onboard, but most fearing gang retribution, demand more police protection and retreat behind a ‘wall of silence’.

Toots, 22 who says he became a gang member at age 13 added, “the only people more dangerous than rival gangs are the members of your own,” he said recalling a rival who drove past him recently and yelled ‘Si dices algo, te matare como un perro’ (If you say anything, I will kill you like a dog).

“When you wallow with dogs, you get flees and start to smell like a dog. People go hey that ‘B’ smells like a dog, he must be a dog. They don’t do background checks out here.”

Gang banging, murder, prostitution, bullying, knives, and guns are just a few of the many harsh realities young people face in this resource-starved community and other urban communities around the United States. Though this is the reality for many, there is a generation of youth who have refused to contribute to the violence plaguing Urban America.

Young people like Shanda, Kendra and Jason, whose mother was stabbed to death in 2007 have experienced violence both personally and communally, however, they have chosen to stand for nonviolent alternatives.

“We need to be talking about teen drinking and smoking, absent fathers, drug dealing, dropping out of school and self respect. The discussion needs to be less about police gang sweeps and more about why kids join.” Jason said gangs plague his Westside neighborhood. He says he understands why boys his age join gangs, but explained how he stays out of them.

“I stay in school because it’s my ticket out of this hell hole. You got a lot of kids who grow up idolizing someone with a reputation for crazy violence. It takes a strong person to say no to the pressure. A school dropout with time on his hands is easy prey,” said Jason “They join a gang because the hierarchy makes you feel important. How do you convince a kid to stay in school when everything around him is poverty, violence police and racism?”

“People like to blame social ills, parents, teachers and the police,” said Kendra. “It’s also a lot about alienation and a lack of love and hope. ‘Love. Honor. Loyalty.’ These are the principles that bind the young runaways, outcasts and lost kids who get caught up in the gang life.”

“Until gang violence comes knocking at your door, it’s largely someone else’s problem,” says San Bernardino pastor Bronica Martindale, president of the California Gardens Neighborhood Cluster Association. But says Martindale there are rays of hope.

“I see God’s grace coming out of the darkness. I see youth locally and across the nation leading the way, galvanizing, working with other youth creating powerful, and respectful ways to share, hear, gather, and communicate stories about their experience of torment and violence, and their experience of nonviolent alternatives,” said Martindale.

“Even in the face of persistent danger young people all around us are courageously discovering how to work through their struggle,” said Martindale. She says dance, poetry, faith in God, fear, rap, singing, and even death have given birth to new outlets of expression, release, and purpose. After all she said “courage in danger is half the battle."



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