Jamiel Shaw's "18-year plan" for his son was beautifully simple: stay in school, make the grades, stay out of trouble and go off to a college far away from their gang-infested neighborhood.
The plan was working to perfection. Two months past his 17th birthday, Jamiel Shaw Jr. had stayed out of gangs, was a solid student and standout athlete. An ultra-quick running back who led his high school's football team to a Southern League title, he was attracting scholarship attention from Stanford, Rutgers and other schools.
Two gunshots ended the plan, and Jamiel Jr.'s life.
"I thought everything that I was doing was going to keep him from this," his father said, choking back tears.
The boy was shot Sunday night on a sidewalk just a few doors from home, close enough for Jamiel Sr. to hear the gunfire. He ran outside and found his mortally wounded son in a pool of blood.
Several Los Angeles neighborhoods are experiencing a spate of gang violence. In the last two weeks, police engaged in a gunbattle with a carload of alleged gang members after a man was shot as he walked with a child; eight people — five of them children — were wounded when a man fired into a crowd near a bus stop; and a 6-year-old boy was shot in the head and critically wounded while riding in a car with his family.
"What's particularly unnerving for all of us is the random nature of these shootings," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Wednesday, noting that a "cloak of fear" has spread across parts of the city.
Police Chief William Bratton acknowledged the spike in gang crime and said he's responding the same way he did in 2002, the last time there was such violence. He's "putting cops on the dots" — meaning flooding crime hot spots with officers.
Villaraigosa is calling for the hiring of at least 400 more officers in the next two years to push the department total to 10,000.
Homicides on the rise
Los Angeles has recorded 74 homicides this year, a 27 percent increase from the same time last year. Still, Bratton said overall crime is down, as are gang-related homicides — from 28 last year to 22 so far this year.
That statistic doesn't mean much to Jamiel Jr.'s friends and relatives, who remembered him as a happy, friendly teen. "He always used to have a smile on his face," said Colletti Scorza, 18, who was Jamiel's track-and-field training partner.
Jamiel's mother, Army Sgt. Anita Shaw, was on her second tour in Iraq and flew home to bury her son.
Jamiel, who was black, was killed by Hispanic gang members who asked him what gang he belonged to, then shot him when he didn't answer, police and witnesses said. No arrests have been made.
The 6-year-old boy shot in his family's car also is black. Two men, both Hispanic, have been arrested. Witnesses said the assailants flashed gang signs before opening fire.
Bratton described the area where the 6-year-old was shot as "under the influence of a Latino gang" but rejected the idea that the recent violence is racially motivated.
He said hate crimes would be prosecuted if evidence suggests race was a component. But he bristled at a news conference Wednesday when asked if recent shootings were indicative of wider racial problems.
"There are several, unfortunately, among you who every time we have one of these incidents want to make more out of it than it is," Bratton said.
Latino migration creates tension
Hispanics constitute about half of Los Angeles' nearly 4 million residents. As the population has surged, Latinos have moved into traditionally black neighborhoods, sometimes creating tension.
Joe Hicks, vice president of Community Advocates Inc. and former executive director of the city's Human Relations Commission, said race is one part of the complex gang problem.
"There seems to be some reticence to talk about what is taking place," Hicks said. "There certainly appears to be a racialized component."
Jamiel Shaw Sr. doesn't think race was a factor in his son's death, noting the boy had many Hispanic friends, some of them on the Los Angeles High School football team.
At a candlelight vigil attended by about 200 friends, family members and neighbors, the grieving father pleaded for an end to the violence.
"We are so occupied with this black-and-brown crap that nobody is dealing with the gangs," he said. "We don't have no problem with black and brown. What we've got to do is focus our attention on the gangs."