Remembering Terrell and Tariq

How does a peace activist respond when, a dozen years after
brokering a historic truce between gang leaders in Watts, his own
son is shot in the back and killed, an innocent casualty of
apparent gang terror? How does a hopeful immigrant who fled
oppression react when his son is murdered in ‘safe’ America?

For Aqeela Sherrills, founder of the Community
Self-Determination Institute, which provides conflict mediation,
literacy training, and arts programming in Watts, California, the
cold-blooded murder of his 18-year-old son, Terrell, has only
strengthened his resolve to forgo the lethal culture of revenge.
And for immigrant Azim Khamisa, forgiveness extended to partnering
with the grandfather of his son’s killer to run a San Diego
foundation that teaches nonviolence and peaceful problem-solving in
schools.

Terrell Sherrills, a first-year student at Humboldt State
University, was murdered after attending a party in Los Angeles’
typically quiet Ladera Heights neighborhood in January. Homicide
detective Martin Rodriguez told a reporter for L.A.
Weekly
(Jan. 23, 2004) that ‘the only thing we can think
as far as a motive is that Terrell wore a red sweater in a
predominately blue or Crip gang area.’ In a letter to Utne, Aqeela
Sherrills explained why his son was sporting the red Mickey Mouse
sweater: Terrell liked Mickey regalia because, like the famous
mouse, he had big ears.

‘It’s not about who killed my son, but what is killing our
children,’ Sherrills wrote Utne. While punishment is certainly in
order, says Sherrills, so is answering a pressing but often
overlooked question: What would cause a young man such inner pain
that he would be driven to kill? Sherrills hopes to find the answer
by someday meeting Terrell’s killer (so far no one has been
arrested for the crime) and the killer’s parents.

Azim Khamisa’a life ground to a halt on the day nine years ago
when his 20-year-old son was shot to death while he was delivering
pizzas to a group of gang members. They refused to pay, and Tariq
was attempting to take the pizzas back to his delivery van when one
of the gang, a 14-year-old named Tony Hicks, shot him dead. Azim,
an Asian Muslim who had fled discrimination in Kenya, told himself
that he was responsible. ‘I had literally made a fatal mistake,’ he
writes in Science of Mind (March 2004). ‘My
American-born son had been killed on a street in the country I had
chosen for him.’

But Khamisa turned his grief into resolve. He met Tony Hicks’
grandfather and guardian, Ples Felix, and found in him a soul mate
who grieved for both boys (Hicks was the first juvenile tried as an
adult in California and is currently serving time in Folsom
Prison). They joined together to form the Tariq Khamisa Foundation
(www.tkf.org) devoted to bringing
programs about nonviolent conflict resolution into schools across
the country. Khamisa and Felix estimate that they have reached
about 350,000 San Diego elementary and middle school kids. ‘My
dream,’ writes Khamisa, ‘is to be in every school system in the
country and in the world. Yes, someday we will be in places like
Israel, Palestine, and Iraq.’

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