Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Never yet found a more important reason to blog

On May 15 I discovered the most important blog I've seen on any news organization's Web site: The Homicide Blog on latimes.com. In it, reporter Jill Leovy tries to chronicile every homicide in Los Angeles County. Sometimes it's just a name with a short description but often it includes at least some extra bio information and some reporting to provide context and a face of the fallen. It's incredibly sad but also moving.

The most recent entry might be the most heart-breaking, even though it's not about a murder victim. In this one, Leovy re-visits a story she wrote about Loved Ones of Homicide Victims—a non-profit that provides grief counseling services to families of murder victims. In a county with one of the highest murder rates in the world, I can't image many services or organiztions doing things more important, honorable or valued. The organization was struggling to keep its doors open because they couldn't attract funding.

Well, three years later the problems remain. Here's the first half of Leovy's entry; there's no way I could improve on her spare and powerful writing ...

n a city criticized for self-absorption, you might think that those who toil selflessly would be rewarded.

They aren't.

Consider the Rev. Ferroll Robins, above. She is the head of the nonprofit Loved Ones Victims Services, formerly Loved Ones of Homicide Victims, an organization that provides grief counseling for people whose family members are murdered in the Los Angeles area.

It's not a job for the weak. Ask any police officer, detective, trauma surgeon, or prosecutor in this city: Nothing is harder to deal with than grieving families of the murdered.

Families who scream when notified that their loved one has been killed. Families who remain mute through bewildering proceedings, politely offering thanks from behind blasted eyes. Families who call detectives for years on end asking about languished cases.

Loved Ones Victims Services focuses exclusively on this difficult work, an island for the grieving, an organization that wades into the messy aftermath of homicide when everyone else seems to want to look away. Among charities, Loved Ones is "the only one I know of" with this mandate, said Capt. James Craig of LAPD Southwest Division--the reason its link is on this site.

Fingerprint smudges inside Loved Ones' Culver City offices offer a clue of what such work is like: The paint is sullied by a parade of clients who have quite literally staggered in, bracing themselves on walls to avoid collapsing from grief.

Robins is the force behind Loved Ones. She stepped in in 1993 and eventually took over the organization. She has given much of her adult life to it, scrambling for funding year after year, always on the brink of closing.

For years, the group has struggled to get so much as a single, tiny, community-development block grant from the city of Los Angeles. The city freely doles out such grants to scores of arts organizations and service groups of all stripes. But not for homicide. Loved Ones went at least three years without a city grant before its recent move to Culver City.

The paragraph starting with the fingerprint smudges moved me the most. I've interviewed people who have lost relatives in car accidents, fires, to drunk drivers and murder victims. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. Period. It never got easier, though fortunately I got better at it. I learned to approach the victims' families more sensitively, to ask more thoughtful questions and be more respectful, but I never had to put myself on the line the way the people who work here do.

I hope that this post catches at least a few eyes and sparks people to do something.


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