There is a familiar grief ritual when a young person dies, especially from violence, especially in poor, black communities. It is communal, emotive, and performative as black people are wont to be; and much the same the world over. After news of the death spreads, people pour out of their homes, to a common area—a park, or to the place where the blood has dried.
They weep. Tell stories. Laugh. Smash bottles. Drink bottles. Pour out some liquor and get loud. They light candles, offer teddy bears, photos, and prayers. Get louder. It is a catharsis of the first kind, a loosing of our deepest emotions, just to get by.
When the police do the killing, there is a palpable anger and tension. There is a visceral heartbreak, especially when the death feels tragically unfair. When police kill a young person, a kid you see every day, there are never answers; there is no reprieve. The hand-wringing sorrow stays trapped in alleys and bodies. It is exacerbated by cops and their unions who smear these young victims to justify their mistakes, their deadly prejudice, their ever-present violence.
The chaotic presidency of Donald Trump may have shifted the lens from the police violence that once dominated headlines, but unfortunately, it doesn’t stop. It never stops. Nor does it prevent the collective trauma of a community reeling with grief and frustration in the aftermath—a trauma one Los Angeles community is reckoning with after another one of its sons was stolen, swiftly and irrevocably.
On Feb. 4, 2018, Super Bowl Sunday, dozens of residents of one Westmount California community poured out into 80-degree heat to decry the shooting death of 16-year-old Anthony “A.J.” Weber. He was killed by a member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
Anthony was reportedly outside with his neighbors celebrating the Philadelphia Eagles’ win when police say he matched the description of a man wielding a gun in the neighborhood. Although details are sketchy, LASD says they confronted Anthony, saw a weapon, gave chase, and shot him after he turned towards them.
As it now stands, no one knows if AJ was shot in the back; no one knows how many bullets penetrated his young body. No one even knows the names of the officers involved (The Root has reached out repeatedly to LASD since last week to no avail). The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, notoriously secretive about any investigation involving an “officer-involved shooting,” has not released much information, and the information they did release raises more questions than answers.
The day after Anthony was shot, the LASD convened a press conference that barred activists and members of the community; there, the police played an “edited” version of the 911 call that described “call for service” which described a black man in a black shirt, blue jeans, with a black hand gun, about 20-years-old. Police contend that this was Anthony Weber.
During the press conference, though they couldn’t release Anthony’s name because he is a juvenile, Sheriff’s Capt. Chris Bergner was sure to note that A.J. was “a local gang member in the area,” something his father vehemently denies. The captain goes on to say that after A.J. was shot, 30 to 40 people from the neighborhood overwhelmed police, and took the alleged weapon, referring to the area as a “high violent crime area,” what the Los Angeles Times calls “death alley.”
Community activist and Black Lives Matter LA member, Melina Abdullah, calls the police version of the scenario “highly unlikely,” and said one of her biggest concerns is not only how this extra-judicial killing not only affects Anthony’s family, but an entire neighborhood.
“First they assassinate the body, and then they assassinate the character,” says Abdullah. “And so [LASD] is alleging that [Anthony’s] a gang member, that he had a gun. But they’re not listing the fact that this is a 16-year-old child, who the entire community saw all day long, walking around the neighborhood with no shirt on.”
Abdullah says she got on the scene about an hour after Anthony was killed, and was disgusted at how the police continued to reinforce pain on an already distraught community.
“So when we got there, they had at least two city blocks completely cordoned off. There had to be at least 30 officers standing at the line, with billy clubs out,” she recounts, saying that she stood outside the cordoned off area with a pair of sisters, 12 and 13 years old, who kept saying they wanted to get home to their mother.
“This is also community trauma,” says Abdullah. “We were out there with those little girls until 3:00 am.”
Members of the Westmont community report that one of AJ’s brothers (he comes from a family of 10 siblings) was arrested for having a breakdown on the scene. Other witnesses say AJ’s father was just aimlessly wandering the street, “out of his head” and talking with people just following behind him at a distance because they didn’t know what to do.
Trisha Michael, a Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles member who has lived in the neighborhood for three years, says her entire family has been floored by Anthony’s death. Michael says she has tried to be there for the family because she can sympathize. Her sister was killed by Inglewood, Calif., police two years ago. She helps her mother raise her sister’s sons.
“A.J. … used to be in front of my house, and my daughter knows him very well. She told me he used to pull up and say, ‘Be careful in the neighborhood, It’s a lot going on,’ or ‘Be in the house at such and such time, because it’s getting dark early,’”says Michael. “I’m sad, my kids are sad, my nephews knew who he was. I mean we all live on the same block.”
Michael continues, clear that she wants to focus on A.J.
“But it’s not about me it’s about a 16-year-old kid,” she says emphatically. “It just brings me back to my situation, you know? It takes me all the way back to these kids, and how these kids are feeling about A.J. getting killed at such a young age. And the amount of times he got shot; their momma got shot 13 times. They just were hurt.”
Dr. Imani J. Walker, a psychiatrist and mental health advocate, says that the grieving process for a community inundated by violence, especially at the hands of police, is ongoing.
“When a community such as this one is so justifiably upset by the death of a child at the hands of police, the grieving process often doesn’t get time to be fully completed,” Dr. Walker explains. “You’ll have a large group of people going through each stage [of grief] at their own pace. With this effectively creates are people who may be at this stage of anger while someone else may be at the stage of depression. So in effect there are members of the community at various stages who are all pulling each other back into earlier stages of grief. All of these confused emotions generally lead towards feelings of anger and mistrust of their surroundings.
“The community is taking it hard right now. The community don’t know where to go, how to go,” says Michael. “This community is so used to police invading, instead of us working with us, or talking to us instead of targeting young black men in so-called dangerous neighborhoods.
“Yes, I do feel like A.J. was profiled,” Michael continues. “Everybody is not a fucking suspect. You better know who and what. Because my daughter is standing there, she’s five feet away from a suspect. What the fuck you gonna do, shoot her too because she’s next to him?”
“Our neighborhoods sometimes become like reservations,” concedes Abdullah. “Like they put us on these little, impoverished tracts of land and try to impose rules that are not laws and treat us like colonial subjects. Saying that 16-year-olds and children don’t have the right to celebrate the Super Bowl if they live in a poor black neighborhood. But we have to remind people that we’re not subjects, we’re people. We’re entitled to our humanity.”
To donate to Anthony “A.J.” Weber’s funeral expenses, go here.
source: the root