Just Another Roadside Distraction

Anatomy of a murder on Beacon Avenue

*   *   *

Seferino approached the sidewalk in front of 856 Walnut St. He saw Chico lying with his eyes closed, his legs tangled in the low rider—the same one Seferino had seen him ride to the corner market so many times before. His neighbor, Julia Campos, had her hands on the kid's chest and was pleading with him. Seferino knew that Chico was already gone. He turned back to his house to notify the press. This time, he ran.

He found the phone amidst piles of papers on the kitchen table. Seferino is a community organizer, and he collects a significant amount of paper. Organizing has also given him contacts throughout the local press. He began calling local news stations: FOX and UPN. He dialed a friend at the Los Angeles Times and another at The Orange County Register. This was a murder that Seferino would not allow to go unnoticed. If he's going to clean up the neighborhood, he needs the homeboys to know there are consequences to killing each other.

Seferino, Raquel and Cuauhtémoc Garcia at the place their march against death ended. Photo by Matt Otto

Before returning to the murder scene, Seferino called 911 just to be safe. He got a busy signal, hung up, tossed the phone on top of the piles of paper and ran back out onto the street.

*   *   *

"Oh my God! Who did this?" Julia asked the kid.

Chico, as he was called by those who knew him, tried to open his eyes.

"Oh my God!" Julia exclaimed again as she felt his chest, examining the bullet hole with her fingers. She felt something hard beneath her fingertips, whether a protruding rib or the bullet lodged in the kid's chest, she couldn't say. She pulled her hand away. Her palm was covered with the kid's blood. She wiped it on his shirt.

Julia had never seen this kid, now lying on the corner of Beacon and Walnut. In less than a week she will meet his mother and his wife. She will take her grandson to Chico's funeral and stand by his side as he presents Chico's mother with the $149 he will raise by standing in front of a shrine constructed by Raquel. Like Raquel, he will wait on the street and accept donations to help Chico's family pay for the burial. Though Chico's wife, Ashley, is in the Army, his mother will soon learn that the military won't cover the expenses for Chico's funeral.

In that week, Chico's mother will ask Julia what her son looked like when he died. Julia will tell her he looked peaceful: his eyes were closed, his mouth shut. In that week, Ashley will ask the neighbors attending Chico's funeral to point out Julia Campos. She'll approach Julia and thank her for staying by her husband's side while he lay dying on Walnut Street.

But now, as she looked over the kid, Julia realized he was going to die, and she wanted his mother to find some comfort in knowing her son had not died like a dog in the street.

*   *   *

Seferino reached the crowd just in time to see Julia make the sign of the cross on Chico's body. He noticed the police still had not come, and, like an answer to his prayer, Chico's murderers hadn't returned to shoot anyone else.

"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Lord, if he's going to die, take him with you."

After her prayer, Julia watched the kid take one last breath.

"Hold on! Hold on!" Julia pleaded. And then he was dead.

*   *   *

The Campos and Garcias huddled with Chico's friend and other concerned neighbors. They stood in the street, forming a kind of protective circle around the body. With little concern for oncoming traffic or a repeat shooting, they waited for the police and paramedics.

Julia was thinking about the kid's mother. Who is going to tell her that her son is dead? Are the police going to catch his murderers? Are they even going to try?

Seferino was also thinking about what would happen when the police chose to arrive. He is skeptical of their competence. Seferino has known more than one slain Latino man whose murder was followed by police inaction. He has seen newspaper articles the following morning falsely proclaim a victim's gang affiliation. He has seen the retaliation drive-bys. While Seferino waited, he thought about how he could use this most recent shooting to increase neighborhood solidarity. Maybe this will be the crime that will make the neighbors come together and tell anyone who will listen they've had enough of living in fear.

Tomorrow morning will be a Monday. Raquel will take a stand against the gang violence that keeps her daughter from playing in front of her own house. She will buy candles with pictures of Jesus and the Virgin of Guadalupe and will use them to construct a shrine at the site of Francisco's death. She will use her father's supplies to make a sign proclaiming "R.I.P. Chico." For 10 days, she'll sit in this spot from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. She'll watch over the shrine while neighbors fill her shoebox—covered in hand-drawn peace signs, hearts and flowers—with donations for Chico's funeral. She will be forced to black out the letters WWJD on the donation box so that no one will mistake the abbreviation for "What Would Jesus Do?" with a local gang's insignia. Her neighbors will bring pictures of Chico, letters they've written after his death and paper hearts. They will ask her over and over again, "Aren't you scared?"

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