"My mommy is dead. My mommy is dead." Those simple but devastating words kept falling from the lips of 3-year-old Nicole Kerbrat last Friday at the end of the funeral Mass for her mother, Tina, the first Los Angeles Police Department woman officer killed in the line of duty.
Following a long tradition, the police officers present for the Mass passed by Tina's coffin in the center aisle of the church. Since her husband, Tim, is a Los Angeles city fireman, the numbers of those passing by was doubled.
During this moving procession of friends and colleagues, many of these police officers and fire personnel stopped to console Tim, his 6-year-old son, Craig, and Nicole. Nicole had been told that her mother was dead, but it obviously held no real meaning for her at this young age. But someday she will understand the depth of what has shattered her life and that of her family.
I dread that day. While all of us can tell her what happened to her mother at 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 11, who will have adequate words to explain the "why." How will we be able to help her grapple with the incredible level of violence in our communities? How will anyone be able to explain the widespread drug use that ruins so many lives, the expanding presence and activities of youth gangs, the easy access to handguns and semiautomatic and automatic weapons? Who will accept responsibility for the "killing streets" of Los Angeles?
I am afraid that no one will. And that is the real tragedy of our times. Tina Kerbrat was gunned down with a .357 magnum, a horrendous weapon that offers the victim no chance of survival. The assailant, also killed in the incident, was able to purchase the gun easily days earlier. In this devastating case, the score is: guns 2, life 0. The easy access to handguns is sheer madness, and the statistics point to the enormous price we pay for our insanity.
Tina's assailant was a Salvadoran refugee who had purchased the gun before returning to his own country. Because of the violence spawned by civil war throughout El Salvador over the past dozen years, he bought the gun to take back home for "protection." And in this case, home is a country filled with armaments supplied by our country and many countries formerly in the communist bloc.
The resort to weapons and armaments has brought no one peace and security. In fact, the opposite has resulted. Just as the Iraqi military has become an armed uncontrollable giant in the Middle East, so have so many other countries wasted their scarce resources on more and more armaments.
What words will we use to tell Nicole that very few did anything to curb the free flow of weapons throughout our communities? What excuses will satisfy her outrage that handguns were not brought under strict control in our society? What evidence do we give that we were outraged at her mother's senseless death? How do we explain that we expect our law-enforcement officers to solve the many social and economic problems that spawn the violence and killing?
I feel saddened and ashamed that our political and government leaders have not come together to say "Enough!" to the senseless violence, killings, injuries and destruction that continue to ravage our neighborhoods and our streets. How many more Tina Kerbrats will have to die before we see our political leadership declares that a major crisis exists and that the root causes must be dealt with?
Our state and our local communities are facing an unprecedented drought, and all of us will have to make enormous sacrifices to preserve our scarce water resources. But there is leadership to care for the effects of the drought. Where is similar leadership to deal with the violence?
I pray that Tina Kerbrat's ultimate sacrifice will not be in vain, that somehow the grace and spark will be there for all of us to take responsibility for this violence and to end it. I call upon our political leaders, our civic and corporate leaders, our religious leaders and our law-enforcement leaders to seize the moment to reverse this horrific slide.