It was the fourth time in two days last week that a young black person was killed by other blacks in South Los Angeles. It didn't make much of a news splash. Like the 16-year-old girl and 20-year-old man at 81st and Avalon, like the 17-year-old boy at 83rd and Main Street, Gerrik Thomas' shooting death, on Jan. 25, was to everyone other than his family, friends and the LAPD, just another L.A. killing.
Thomas, 21, had gone to the market to buy a soda. As he walked back to his great-grandmother's blue-and-white house eight doors down from the corner of West 54th Street and 9th Avenue, he was hassled — maybe asked, threateningly, “Where you from?” — by two males about his age driving by. He didn't answer; he called his mom. Moments later, according to police, at the corner, in front of the M & J 100% Hand Car Wash, the car stopped. The two guys got out. One grabbed Thomas, and the other shot him in the head. Thomas was pronounced dead at California Hospital.
There will be no protest marches organized in Thomas' memory. No downtown streets will be blocked; the entrances to the Harbor Freeway will remain open. No angry citizens will demand the arrest, trial and conviction of those responsible for his killing.
I get the outrage when a cop kills an unarmed civilian, I get the fury when a video shows what looks like an unnecessary, excessive police shooting. But what I don't get is why Gerrik Thomas' death barely signifies. Why isn't his excessive and unnecessary killing a story? Why are the community, the hashtag leaders, the media and the politicians mostly silent?
Is it that Thomas' death is acceptable? Does it just come with the territory in South Los Angeles?
I've been writing about gang killings in Los Angeles for well over 25 years, and I know these deaths are not acceptable to the families on Grape Street, on Success Avenue, on Brynhurst Avenue. Their pain is as deep as it gets. I know the answer is “no” to the question Reggie Sims, gang interventionist at Jordan Downs, asked about the lack of uproar over the killing of his son several years ago: “Just because he was shot by another black kid, that makes it OK?” I've heard that question from at least 100 different relatives of the slain.
By way of an uproar, I'll tell you a bit about Gerrik Thomas.
If you ask 20 of his friends and family about him, every one will say something about his smile.
Some might describe the tattoo on his right forearm — “Demicha”— his mother's name. Others will talk about how he took the bus to work as a security guard near the airport or at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. About how respectful he was. That he went to Daniel Webster Middle School and Crenshaw High. That he dreamed of being a doctor and was enrolled at Los Angeles Trade Tech to learn nursing. But all of them will bring up his smile.
“Who would do this to him?” asked his friend Shonda Smith, staring at dozens of “murder candles” set on the sidewalk where he was shot. “He wasn't the type of kid to even have the slightest confrontation with anyone. He was a good kid. A nice lovable young man. And that smile of his. His smile would brighten a whole, gloomy day. I can't believe it that he's gone.”
“Even when Gerrik had a rough day, when I could tell something was bothering him, he still had that beautiful smile of his,” said his great-aunt Karon Stinson. She was on the porch of his great-grandmother's house two days after his death. “Granny,” in a wheelchair, agreed about the smile, in her whisper of a voice.
LAPD homicide Det. Christopher Barling, head of the 77th Division squad, said Thomas was not a gang member; he had no record. It is unfortunate that when a killing happens south of the 10 Freeway, it is often assumed the victim was a gang member.
On Thursday, Demicha Lofton-Thomas, Gerrik's mother, posted a statement on Facebook. This is some of it:
“On Monday, January 25, 2016, at 6:30, my biggest fear came to reality. My son Gerrik Thomas was the victim of a violent crime. [He] had just called my phone at 6:24 and said that a dude banged on him. I talked to him for a couple minutes not knowing it would be the last time I'll ever hear [his] voice. At 6:33 I received a call ... I heard all the crying in the background.... I felt it in my heart. My stomach started to hurt. My legs were getting weak like they were going to collapse.”
Anyone with information about Thomas' killing can call the Criminal Gang Homicide Division anonymously: (323) 786-5100. Thomas' family has set up a Go Fund Me account to help with his funeral expenses: www.gofundme.com/long-live-gerrik. If you haven't figured it out for yourself, Gerrik Thomas' life mattered.