For me, there is an inevitable place where my mind goes when forced to think about the evil that visited the innocent in Sandy Hook. I saw my first gun shot victim die on the streets of East Los Angeles when I was around 10 years old. It was a Friday, school let out and there was a scuffle on Cesar Chavez Ave, (formerly Brooklyn Ave), the fight bled out into the middle of the street and the familiar muffled sounds of pop-pop meant that the crowds would start rushing towards where he fell. I don’t know who he was, he was older, Latino, and blood ran down his chest–soaking his t-shirt. I stopped for awhile–as did most of the kids who walked home down this street everyday–stopping at the store for candy, chips, soda–my preference was the panaderia, where I bought way too much Mexican bread for my own good. This day though, I remember not wanting to go to the store, don’t think I played music on the way home as I usually did, (there were these things called radios, before I-Pods), I think I was captivated, in a coldly scientific way about the body I saw on the street felled by gunfire.
Why? Who was he? And since I had grown up around violence, my mind immediately defaulted to the question–”what did he do?” His eyes were lifeless, the blood had ceased flowing, so I assume he was dead–I stared at him as the L.A. County sheriffs drove up, cordoned off the scene and the paramedics arrived. By the time the street had become an official crime scene, many many more kids, adults, local shopkeepers came out to gawk, some crossing themselves & saying silent prayers. I backed away from the front lines, and made my way back home.
What strikes me about this scene is probably what strikes you, it was not a horrifying thing for me to see, it did not scare me, it did not make me think about the violent nature of where I grew up. It did not make me long to be involved in the “game” as this game would ensnare many of my school mates, and family–many of whom did not make it with me to Garfield High School. Dying on those same streets–gunshots, payback, stares gone wrong–initiations into a life so cheapen by generations of official government neglect and familial despair–that life never held any interest for me, but not because I’d been scared straight–but because I was lucky to be spared such evil.
Evil is so difficult to define–it has origins none of us want to truly understand because we can’t. I don’t know why that man died on the street I walked everyday for years, and worse, I have no idea why watching that happen, I was not changed. Perhaps the darkest part of this is that I was changed–heart hardened to all forms of this violence that visited my family, my friends, my neighborhood, my people–that I have become inured to its viciousness, its heart-breaking, soul-crushing wails.
Friday, I cried–for children, for the parents, for that man–for the first time. The numbing terror of children facing such evil with nothing but the heroic teachers and staff protecting them I think was too much for any parent to bear–and it caused me to remember that day 35 years ago, when I saw someone murdered in front of me–and walked away, numbed by its normalcy, untouched by its horror. As common as that occurrence was in my neighborhood, Friday’s massacre of children also reminded me that my mother prayed for me regularly, a small statue of the Virgin Mary with a holder for Holy Water was placed in our room, and she dipped her finger in the water and crossed me with it, I did not know what that meant, and after awhile, she stopped, assuming I would take up the task myself–which I never did.
Until Friday night, tucking my daughter into bed, I remembered parts of that prayer my mother taught me–I prayed it over my oldest daughter before she went to bed, and I prayed at the bedside of my 5-year old–lacking Holy Water–I simply made the sign of the cross over her bed. For such a time as this, my religious memories defaulted back to the Catholic faith of my youth–it seemed appropriate–since it is the faith of my family, it is the faith of the funerals I have attended for those victims of violence–velorios (wakes) for school friends who have been dying on the streets of East Los Angeles for as long as I can remember.
No child should ever have to experience the coldness of this kind of evil–but they will–and we are all complicit in allowing this evil to persist–until we let that reality sink in–that we allow this monstrous violence to take generations of children to their deaths–we are deluding ourselves–satisfied with the craven politics of our vested interests. We are spiritually impoverished souls wandering aimlessly through the valley of shadow of death.
Yo confieso ante Dios Todopoderoso
y ante ustedes, hermanos y hermanas
que he pecado mucho
de pensamiento, palabra, y obra y omisíon
por mi culpa, por mi culpa, por mi gran culpa.
I confess to almighty God
and to you, brothers and sisters
that I have sinned
in thought, word, and deed and omission
through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…
Help Us Lord,