Waiting for an Angel

God's Child Taken Home to Change Our World

'Find Your Silver Lining . . .'

--Banner hung at the entrance to the funeral of Stephanie Kuhen, murder victim, age 3.

The funeral was Monday morning. Television crews lined the brick walkway that led to the stone church at Forest Lawn, recording the arrival of dark-suited mourners bearing flowers, of LAPD cops in uniform, and of children, especially children. No one had to be told. This was a story about children.

On his way inside, a young preacher named Gooden stopped to address the cameras. He wore Hush Puppy shoes and carried his Bible tucked under one arm, like a football. He was asked about higher meaning. He spoke of turning corners, of awakening resolve. Stephanie Kuhen--allegedly killed at the hand of gangsters who opened fire on a car that had made a wrong turn onto their dead-end domain--was going to change everything, the preacher said. She would be an "issue" that would dominate the coming presidential elections. She would be "the final straw."

It's time, the preacher said, "to stop talking and to start doing."

"Enough is enough."

Now he said all this with great conviction. And yet, as the preacher spoke of Stephanie Kuhen as a little angel who would help lead the troubled land out of darkness, it was impossible not to recall other angels who had come, and gone, before. There was, for example, Karen Toshima.

*

Seven years ago, this young woman went for a walk in Westwood and was struck by a stray bullet from a gang battle. For a time, the city was galvanized. Gangs had been gunning at one another for years, but the bloodshed mainly had been contained to neighborhoods more easily ignored, it would seem, than Westwood. Now something would be done. Now, one prosecutor said, everyone would "get off the dime." Now would come the LAPD's Operation Hammer, and a citizens campaign called "Turn the Tide."

A year later, there was Kanita Haley. The 7-year-old was playing baseball in Watts when a bullet from a passing car found her right temple. Back then, in 1989, the age of 7 seemed shockingly young for a drive-by victim. Again, the engines of civic outcry powered up. "There is a great need," a community activist said, "for concern about the level of violence permeating our cities. There appears to be a tolerance that stems from inertia, insensitivity or fear."

And then came Denise Silva and Sabrina Haley, one 3 years old, the other just 18 months. They were slain within two days of each other in April, 1992. Now it was time, the bishop said at the funeral, for the community to come together and turn these two deaths into "a resurrection, a dramatic turning around of the terrible violence of the whole gang culture." And everyone agreed. Enough was enough.

And there was Edgar Evans, 13 years old. And Stephen Coats and Reggie Crawford, both 14. On Halloween night, 1993, they were walking down a Pasadena sidewalk, a block from home, when a carload of gang members ambushed the trick-or-treaters with combat weapons. And so came the calls for gun control, gang crackdowns, something, anything. The police chief had never witnessed such an outpouring: "I sense outrage, anger, frustration and a determination to do something tangible and substantive. . . . If our kids can't walk down a street without being blown away, we are really in trouble. The savagery of this caused people to say, 'Enough is enough.' "

*

And now there is Stephanie Kuhen. After she was buried Monday the mourners released skyward a clutch of white balloons. These balloons were said to signify "hope." Elsewhere, too, there was talk of the mayor appointing a gang czar, of setting aside a day to mourn fallen children. Calls went out for tougher laws, for renewed police crackdowns, for something, anything.

This search to find a "silver lining" in the slaughter of a 3-year-old can be dismissed, easily enough, as much vapor going nowhere--like the balloons. Certainly, the ghosts of Karen Toshima and Kanita Haley and the rest would suggest the skeptical view. Every year or so, an innocent goes down in a crime that sets a new standard for outrage. Jaws are set. Plans are laid. And then . . .

. . . And then not much of anything changes. Until the next outrage. Which, of course, makes everybody get mad and shout about enough being enough.

That would be a cynic's view. Those who desire a more uplifting exit from the sad death of Stephanie Kuhen might consider this: The response to this killing, however predictable, however futile, even, does demonstrate at least that--against all odds--there are still some people left who have not lost hope, who still believe that, someday, their angel will come. And this hope alone is its own triumph.

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