It took me a few minutes to fully grasp what Marcia Holmes recently told me. She told me that 23-year old Ashley Patrice Cheval, gunned down in a gang-related crossfire attack in South Central Los Angeles a week earlier, was her daughter.
At the time, I vaguely remembered a brief news report on the killing. But it was just another of many reports of violence in Los Angeles that I had heard in recent weeks. It rated the barest of passing note, and quickly passed from my radar.
Marcia had been an active participant in our weekly public issues roundtables for the past few years, and in that time we had become friends. The pain and loss she felt hit home with me. Ashley was a college-educated real estate professional, and Marcia's only child. In short, she was another among the growing legion of innocents that have fallen victim to senseless violence in Los Angeles and America's big cities.
Every big city has been hit hard by the violence plague. The prime victims are young Black males, but they are not the only ones. Children and young women such as Ashley have also been victims. They are not being gunned down by neo-Nazis, the Klan or the police, but by Black killers. That was the case with Ashley.
But Marcia did not call me to get sympathy or compassion, although I had plenty of that to offer. She called with a novel idea — she wanted to make a public plea for a dialogue with the killers and other gang members who have wreaked terror and mayhem in Black communities. Marcia wants justice for her daughter, but that does not mean revenge or retribution.
She wants to understand why they commit their terrible acts. But she also genuinely believes that these individuals are in pain, too, and desperately need help to turn their lives around.
Marcia has no illusion that the killers will risk arrest and imprisonment and come forth, or that a dialogue alone will do much to halt the spiraling violence. She does hope that if a dialogue can save one life then it is worth the effort. And why not try? More prisons and police have not stemmed urban violence.
The answer to the problem of why so many young Black men slaughter each other must begin with this understanding: They are not by nature violent or crime prone. They are not killing each other simply because they are poor and oppressed.
The twisted psychological forces that turn Black aggression inward are not due to personality flaws or a racial aberration, but more likely are a warped response to blocked opportunities, powerlessness and alienation.
Many actual or wanna-be gang members feel that no one cares whether they live or die. Their belief that their lives are devalued fosters disrespect for the law and forces them to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others.
Marcia's plea for a dialogue with her daughter's killers and others who terrorize Black communities is not simply a mother's effort to forge healing and reconciliation out of her personal tragedy. It's a sincere effort to bring a small measure of peace to communities torn by violence.
It's an urgent plea of hope. It's a plea that screams out for a response. To contribute to Marcia's effort, send a donation to the Ashley Cheval Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 91522, Culver City, CA 91522.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for www.blacknews.com.