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The Saga of Sgt. Anita Shaw

Soldier Reflects on the Killing of Her Son by Gang Member

New America Media/Our Weekly , News feature, Shirley Hawkins Posted: Jun 05, 2009

A year has passed since the death of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw Jr., the promising high school athlete who was gunned down by a gang member in South Los Angeles.

A popular young man with a charismatic personality, Jamiel Shaw Jr.s trophies and medals still adorn the mantel of the quiet 5th Street Avenue home in Arlington Heights. A day before the anniversary of his sons death, Sgt. Anita Shaw, a veteran of two tours of Iraq, and her husband, Jamiel Shaw Sr., reflected on their son whose future held so much promise.

Its an especially painful time for the Shaws, a hardworking middle-class family who reminisced about Jamiel on their porch swing on a breezy Sunday afternoon. Their voices are soft and reticent as they recalled the gregarious, popular teen whose life was cut short. He was going to go to college. Jas was on his way, recalls Anita, referring to her son by his nickname. Before his tragic death, Jamiel had emerged as a standout running back and sprinter who in the summer of 2007 was already receiving recruitment offers from Stanford, Ohio Wesleyan and Rutgers universities.

Jamiel Shaw Sr. shook his head sadly, admitting that he is still trying to make sense of his sons violent death. You think, It [violence] wont happen to you, and then it happens, he said, anger etched in his voice. Murder is the number one problem in this country. Forget the stimulus package.

Los Angeles, prone to simmering racial tensions and the pervasive presence of black and brown gangs, is a hazardous minefield for young men like Jamiel.

For Sgt. Anita Shaw, the irony of serving her country in war torn Iraq while her son was killed on the streets of Los Angeles is still a painful memory.

When the military told me my son had been killed, my mind went blank, recalls Anita. My commander had gotten a message from the Red Cross that my son had been killed. I was given emergency leave. I boarded a flight on Kuwait International and cried all the way home.

The evening he was slain, Jamiel was walking home from a nearby mall and chatting on the cell phone with his girlfriend. A group of young men pulled up in a car and asked Shaw if he was in a gang. Before Jamiel could answer No, one of the men pulled out a gun and fired. Bullets pierced the teens chest and another bullet hit him between the eyes. Jamiel crumpled to the ground, bleeding and fatally shot three doors from his house.

Days later, police arrested the shooter, Pedro Espinoza, a 19-year-old who was a member of the 18th Street gang. Espinoza, who had spent nearly four months in Los Angeles County Jail for exhibiting a firearm and resisting arrest, had been released from custody just the day before the shooting. Law enforcement discovered that Espinoza was an illegal alien, a fact that leaves Anita shaking her head. Our government should do everything it can to close our borders, said Anita. If our borders werent open my boy would still be alive.

The fact that Jamiel had lost his life to violence is an irony not lost on the Shaws. The tight-knit Shaw family said they had raised their children with strict moral values. We told them to treat others with kindness and courtesy. We used to tell our kids, Dont do evil for evil, and Turn the other cheek.

And Anita said that Jamiel Jr. learned at an early age to treat others with kindness. He had dedicated his life to Christianity at the age of 10, recalls Anita. He had started encouraging other people to turn their life around.

Just before she was deployed for her first tour, Anita recalls that Jamiel Jr. appeared restless and tense and seemed especially anxious about her trip. He asked me not to leave, she recalls. I remember Jamiel Jr. saying, Mama, whatever you do, stay away from those roadside bombs.
Anita recalls feeling pangs of anxiety, as well. Realizing that she could lose her life serving in the embattled desert region, she purchased two teddy bears that recorded messages. The message I left for my two boys was, I Love You. And I miss you, Anita recalls.

Once stationed in Iraq, Anita said she came close to danger several times. While performing guard duty in the tower, she recalls coming within inches of being hit by gunfire. I remember being in the tower when the enemy shot at us, she recalled. Two bullets whizzed right past my head gear. I remember thinking, Theyre shooting at me!

The threat of Iraqi insurgents was another constant threat. Anita recalled an Iraqi who arrived at the base to be trained as a soldier. He went through the background check and passed, she recalled. I was on duty in the tower when this Iraqi entered the dining facility known as the Defac--at lunchtime. The Iraqi ripped open his vest and exploded several bombs. When the bombs went off, it sounded like an earthquake and it shook the tower. I was with another soldier and he and I just looked at each other because we knew someone had gotten hurt.

Twenty one soldiers and civilians were killed that day.

And then one morning, Anita received a call that would shatter her world forever. My commander asked me to come to his office. As she entered, she was puzzled when she noticed that the chaplain sitting solemnly in the commanders office as well.

Your son Jamal has been killed, she remembers the commander saying. But he mispronounced the name, so I thought he wasnt talking about my son.

When Anita finally realized that the commander was talking about Jamiel Jr., she screamed. I was shouting, No! No! The commander told me that I had 20 minutes to gather my belongings and get on the next plane to fly home, recalls Anita, who was granted emergency leave to return to the states.

In times when military personnel are faced with a death in the family or of a fellow soldier, the military accommodates those soldiers immediately, said Lt. Col. George Wright, an army spokesman at the Pentagon. The Army recognizes the impact of the loss of life, whether its from a fellow comrade killed in combat or a family member servicing in the combat zone, said Wright. We recognize the grief that comes with death.

Anita said that she is grateful that the army made every accommodation to assist her in her during her time of need. The death of Jamiel Shaw, Jr. made national headlines and attracted the attention of civic officials. Anita received a compassionate reassignment to return to the states. Today, she sits behind the desk as an army recruiter, far from the life threatening environs of Iraq.

Months after her sons death, Anita sought and received counseling.

Soldiers who have sustained the loss of a family member or fellow comrade can see psychiatrist or psychologist, said Wright.

And allowing military personnel to mourn soldiers who have been slain in combat is also a regulation with the military. Units will gather to conduct after action reviews so that the soldier can come to grips with the death of his or her comrade, said Wright. The military also conducts ceremonies honoring the memories of slain soldiers.

The Shaws are not content to let their sons memory die. When Los Angeles mayoral incumbent Walter Moore proposed a measure entitled Jamiels Law that would allow police to arrest, detain and deport gang members living in the country illegally, Anita and her husband gladly became staunch supporters.

Although the Shaws actively circulated petitions to gather thousands of signatures, Jamiels Law fell short of the required number needed to be placed on the ballot. Far from being defeated, the Shaws are planning to resume gathering signatures this summer.

Were going to try to get the law passed in the county and the state, said Anita. Jamiels Law would ensure that illegal gang bangers would be deported. First, these illegals come into the country. Secondly, we have enough crime in the United States. Why should someone be allowed to stay here who could possibly commit crimes? Theyre hurting U.S. citizens.

And Shaws death elicited sympathy from civic leaders as well. Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attended a memorial service honoring Jamiel. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congresswoman Diane Watson and Los Angeles City Councilman Miguel Contreras all offered support to the Shaw family.

The irony her sons death is not lost on Anita. Ive seen people being attacked. Ive seen soldiers leave on convoys who never return alive. But a 17-year-old cant walk down the street and live to tell about it, she said, shaking her head sadly. I made it to Iraq twice and came back without any bullet wounds or serious injuries, but my son didnt make it to see his 18th birthday. In my opinion, feel that the streets of California are more dangerous than the country of Iraq.

After his death, Jamiel Jr. was memorialized at West Los Angeles Cathedral. His casket was draped with blue and white flowers. Pictures of the promising athlete adorned the sanctuary.

To commemorate March 2, the anniversary of Jamiel Jr.s death, an athletic company donated dumbbells to the Los Angeles High School Jamiel Jr. had attended. Later that day, as the sun set over the Southern California landscape, friends and family gathered to hold a candlelight vigil just feet away from where Jamiel Jr. was gunned down.

In the year since Jamiel Jr.s passing, Sgt. Shaw, who resides on the Ft. McArthur Air Force base in San Pedro, Calif., admits she still has trouble sleeping and that dreams of her son still haunt her.

If Jas was here, I would say, Where you been? I miss you, Shaw whispered as her white dress fluttered in the breeze. I miss Jamiels smile, his attitude, his helpfulness, his voice.

Anita is hurt, shes broken, said Althea Shaw, Anitas sister-in-law. She felt the country let her down. She feels that while she was over in Iraq protecting the country, we have not ordered the military to secure our borders.

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