A glimmer of light pierced the rainstorm in Compton Thursday.
About 100 people marched through the streets, demanding an end to gang violence--the type of violence that led to the fatal shooting of 2-year-old Phillip Fisher last month.
Undaunted by the rain, the marchers strode along Compton Boulevard chanting "No more violence" and carrying banners that read "Save our children."
They were not accompanied by any celebrities or prominent clergymen. The march was not formally endorsed by public officials or powerful civic groups. In fact, the leaders of the march said they did not have a clear agenda.
Instead, the demonstrators were driven by the memory of the slain child and the anger that their streets are not safe anymore.
"There's a war going on out here," said Gregory Fisher, 31, the slain boy's father. "All we're missing are the tanks and the war planes, but you should hear the gunshots at night. I bet Vietnam wasn't this bad."
The marchers, who included toddlers and senior citizens, came in curlers and on crutches. They wore sweat pants, sneakers and black arm bands. All of them completed the 3-mile journey from Phillip's house on Central Avenue to Compton City Hall, where they demanded that city officials end the killing, even if it means bringing in the National Guard.
Mayor Walter Tucker briefly greeted the marchers, mentioning the city's newly enacted ban on semiautomatic weapons, and left minutes later.
'How Many Must Die?'
"How loud must we cry? How many of our children must die before our city leaders will say enough is enough and put an end to this suffering?" said Pat Moore, 40, who organized the march. "I don't care if I see a soldier on every corner as long as I know my child will be able to get to school and back home safely."
Moore, who had never organized any political demonstrations, was inspired to do so after Phillip's murder because "I was angry. I felt cheated and I felt Phillip had been cheated out of his life. So, I decided that we were not going to stand for this anymore."
Phillip was killed in a drive-by shooting on Jan. 29, while he played in the front yard with his uncles and next-door neighbors. One of those neighbors, Deandre Richardson, 19, was also killed. Police have made two arrests in the shooting and are still seeking another suspect.
Phillip's uncle, Rodney Jackson, 25, was shot in the knee. However, his injury did not keep him out of the demonstration.
"This ain't the first time someone's been killed out in Compton. It's sad that a little boy has to get killed before people will take some action, but politicians don't seem to be able to help," said Jackson, whose knee-cap was shattered by a bullet. "It's up to people like us to go into the street and talk to those gangs. Those punks can be controlled."
Moore began organizing the march the day after Phillip's murder. She spent afternoons and evenings on the telephone calling friends, neighbors and grass-roots community groups.
"It was certainly an exhausting experience getting these folks together," she said, while walking along Compton Boulevard with her troops. "But if a child can die, then we can certainly march in his memory."
Along the way to City Hall, the marchers were applauded by shop keepers and pedestrians. Drivers honked their horns in support.
One woman, who stood outside a vitamin store, cried as she waved to the marchers.
"My son was shot down last year," the woman said in Spanish. "He was only 16. He was all I had."
Phillip's mother, Yolanda Jackson, 24, is expecting another child in April.
"I don't care if it's a boy or girl," said Jackson, who lives with her mother and eight siblings in a three-bedroom home. "I don't even care about having another baby. I prefer the one I had."
"God, if my boy were gunned down when he was 2 years old, I'd have gone crazy," said J. D. Booker of Gardena, with rain dripping over his balding head. "Efforts like this, that start from the heart, just might reach the gangs--they just might be watching us now."
Moore said her group has no specific plans for future activities.
"We just wanted to wake people up," she said. "We want to let our leaders know that we are watching them and relying on them to help. We want people in the community to start educating their kids and keeping them out of gangs. And we want to let the killers know that we are not going to take this anymore."