On January 30, 1988 a young Japanese woman, Karen Toshima, was murdered in affluent Westwood near the UCLA campus when rival gang members from South Central LA opened fire in crowded Westwood Village and caused a media frenzy in Los Angeles and nationwide.
Gang violence in South Central LA, Compton, and surrounding areas had skyrocketed due to the drug turf wars, the glamorization of violence by the movie and entertainment industries, and the introduction of rap/hip-hop extolling gang life.
When Toshima was killed hundreds of unsolved and unpublished gang murders had occurred in the Black and Latino communities with very little media coverage. In fact, it seemed so common that very few public officials spoke out against the escalating violence and certainly no media blitz, political speeches, or hefty rewards were offered–until Karen Toshima.
Now the city was enraged by this brazen murder and the County Board of Supervisors, City Council, and then Mayor Tom Bradley, expressed their grave concerns. Rewards were offered for information leading to the capture of these “thugs”, new gang procedures were initiated, police patrols were dramatically increased, etc.–all due to this “heinous” crime that Black folks had been experiencing on a daily basis.
Finally, the Black political leaders came forward and publicly challenged the media frenzy, correctly stating that had this murder been committed in South Central LA, nobody would raise an eyebrow. The media and politicians denied any bias, of course, but Time Magazine in an article dated February 22, 1988, demonstrated the bias in media attention by illustrating that a 67 year old Black woman was killed by hoodlums 10 days after Toshima with nearly non-existent news coverage.
FAST FORWARD TO MARCH 28, 2009 when two innocent USC students (both white) were rundown by a hit-and-run driver. The female student, Adrianna Bachan, was killed and her male companion severely injured. News coverage was non-stop. The city and nation were outraged–again. Within 72 hours the Los Angeles City Council offered $135,000.00 reward, and a private party added another $100,000.00 swelling reward to $235,000.00.
The results were predictable–the police department put its best detectives, investigators, and officers on the case, tips came in, and within 5 days the perpetrator was apprehended.
Meanwhile hundreds, if not thousands of Black, Latino, and poor White homicides go unsolved and ignored. Including the homicide of my son, Derek LaMont Crawford, who was brazenly and viciously murdered on July 16, 2006 while driving to church on a Sunday afternoon in broad daylight on crowded Slauson Avenue in front of countless witnesses–yet his case sits “cold” in the archives of the Los Angeles Police Department and District Attorney’s office, and neither has any plans of re-opening the case despite my protestations.
The thing that gets me is that LAPD has an “elite” staff of homicide experts, investigators, and officers who are capable of solving any crime when they are pressured by public outcry, The City Council and County Board of Supervisors have discretionary funds available to offer incentive rewards, but seldom offer these rewards when Black homicide victims are involved. In fact, over the past year almost all of the rewards, and all of the large rewards have gone for information concerning non-Black homicides (check the records). Yet Black parents must sit here and watch the city and county of Los Angeles devalue Black life and go to the limit to solve non-Black homicides.
How many of us will continue to suffer this indignation, shoddy police work, apathy in City Hall, Parker Center, LA Police Commission, and Mayor’s office and the unwillingness of our Black leaders to step forward to challenge this bias? I have been trying for six months to get someone to re-open my son’s case, which was badly mismanaged by LAPD, the District Attorney’s office, and all others involved. I haven’t had so much as a courtesy phone call from anybody.
I think I’ll change my last name to Toshima!