The Secret Life Of Jamiel Shaw

Jamiel Shaw, the seventeen year old African-American high school football star murdered on March 2nd, allegedly at the hands of 19 year-old Pedro Espinoza (an illegal immigrant and member of 18th street gang, one of the largest Latino street gangs in Los Angeles County), is a murder case that has garnered national headlines. Shaw was the M.V.P. of his team and a good student. His mother, Staff Sergeant Anita Shaw, was in Iraq serving her county when her son was murdered. This set of circumstances captured the attention of the media and the black community.

Anita Shaw stated that it’s a shame that she was risking her life in a war across the world and her own son was not even safe in his neighborhood. During the last three months, the Shaw family has made headlines of their own by leading a campaign to implement what they are calling “Jamiel’s Law.” This is a proposed ballot measure which would require the Mayor and Police Chief to investigate and arrest gang members that are in the country illegally before they get caught committing crimes, not just afterwards.

The Shaw family also has pushed for the prosecution to file hate crime charges, insisting that the murder of their son was based on his race. When initially meeting with L.A. County D.A. Michelle Hanisee, the family balked when she did not comply with their hate crime demands. When she revealed to them some of the true facts of why their son was murdered, they became outraged and created enough media and public pressure to have her removed from the case.

Since the tragic murder, the Shaw family has not only launched a smear campaign against Hanisee, they attacked activists, community leaders and members of the media who began to tell the family an inconvenient truth. Their son may have been involved in some dangerous extracurricular activities. This made my sitting in the courtroom last week as an observer much more interesting.

For the first time, we unfortunately saw and heard part of the secret life of Jamiel Shaw. Shaw was killed 4 houses down from his own home. He was wearing a red belt emblazoned with black skulls and the belt had “20” written on it. According to the law enforcement gang expert, this is a symbol used by the Rollin’ 20s, a Bloods gang in that neighborhood.

Jamiel also had gang images and materials in his I-Pod that mocked and ridiculed rival Black and Latino gangs in that neighborhood. It was also revealed that Jamiel’s girlfriend told police officers that he was a gang member. As I sat in court, I was troubled and upset. The Shaw family is grieving and I’m sorry for their pain. However, they need to stop this hoax that their son was murdered because he was black.

All the evidence in court points to the fact that he was murdered because he was a gang member. According to gang intervention workers that I know personally, Jamiel’s father knew his son was a gang member. They tried unsuccessfully to stop him from being involved in the gang. The lesson for all parents is that no matter how good you think your children are, you might not know they have a secret life away from home.

This is a real tragedy the family is going through, but they making it worse by being in denial, playing the oft-used race card, and unfairly trying to smear people who simply are doing their jobs.

Of course, let’s fight for justice for Jamiel. I don’t care how many gangs he was in, he didn’t deserve to be killed. But let’s keep it real and accept responsibility for the choices that we and our children make in life.

Najee Ali is Executive Director of Project Islamic H.O.P.E, a national civil rights organization that advocates for the human rights of oppressed people regardless of race, gender or religion. He was selected by Wave Newspapers and Our Weekly Newspaper as one of the 25 most influential black leaders in Los Angeles. More information is available at:

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