Tuesday, December 04, 2007

All shootings are sad

As 3,000 people, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, turned out Monday to pay their respects to slain Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor and bemoan the senseless gun violence in this country, I couldn't help but wonder why "leaders" like Jackson don't show up at the tragic funerals of regular people and preach the same message. Draw attention to that, Rev. Jackson, and let's put those killings and shootings out front. Make the public pay attention.

Thankfully, there's Jill Leovy at the Los Angeles Times, who with her Homicide Report blog chronicles at least cursorily the homicides of every person in Los Angeles County. Occasionall, her work still appears in the Times, including this amazing story that appeared in Sunday's paper about a pregnant woman who was shot and has been paralyzed from the waist down.

You can read the story in this blog, but I highly recommend going to the LATimes website and reading it, because you can see Barbara Davidson's pictures, which add the poingancy to this story. Rose Smith and her boyfriend Tyrin Tisdale are who most of us are--hard-working people trying to make their family's life better. Honestly, people who are way more relatable than Sean Taylor.

From the Los Angeles Times

Rebuilding a shattered dream

After a bullet paralyzes a pregnant mother in Los Angeles, her family is learning to live again.
By Jill Leovy
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

December 2, 2007

Rose Smith had forgotten the ground turkey for her dirty rice recipe. So the 23-year-old pregnant mother of two waited until their father, Tyrin Tisdale, got home to watch the kids, then headed to the store.

It was May 27 in Watts, and in another hour or so, Smith's life would be shattered. But at that moment, everything was routine -- the way she and Tisdale, 24, liked it.

Raised on the same tough street, the young couple had a shared dream of pulling their young family up and out of the Nickerson Gardens public housing project and of buying a house in a better neighborhood.

That goal required an austere, ceaseless dedication for two people in their early 20s with few resources, no college education and a world of poverty and unemployment at their doorstep.

The rhythm of their lives was like a metronome: Get 2-year-old Mariah and 1-year-old Tyrin Jr. out of bed. Feed them. Dress them. Take them to day care. Go to work, she as a receptionist and he as a mental health worker.

The dirty rice was for one of their few breaks, a Memorial Day potluck with Tisdale's family. Smith hurried through the shopping, then called Tisdale on her cellphone for help unloading the groceries.

Later, both of them would describe what happened as dream-like -- fast and slow at the same time. The children were sleeping in the living room. Smith parked across the street.

A large group of teenagers gathered nearby -- 14-year-olds, black and Latino. Tisdale and Smith both describe a jump in tension, the sound of male voices arguing. Then, like a match dropped in gasoline, a fistfight in the dark. Gunshots booming, close enough to rattle the eardrums.

They remembered the next few seconds differently. Smith's eyes were on the door. The children were awake, standing behind the mesh door, looking out at her. She had one thought -- to get to them.

Tisdale thought the children were still asleep. His eyes were on Smith. He watched her jog across the street. She jumped on the porch and reached for the door handle.

The bullets tore into her one by one, each producing a sharp, burning sensation. Her cheek. Her jaw. Her arm. And there was something else, unlike anything she had felt before. One second her legs were there, the next they weren't.

Even in all the confusion, she knew. "Something in my head had registered that I wasn't going to use my legs any more," she said.

From across the street, Tisdale saw her fall. He thought she was just getting down for safety. "Get up!" he told her as he reached her side. She couldn't.

Tisdale jumped over her, through the door, and called 911. The dispatcher questioned him, saying, "Slow down!" He grew impatient. "My girlfriend's been shot!" he kept saying.

When the police arrived, they wouldn't let Tisdale near Smith.

"Just stand back," they told him.

Lying on the porch, unable to move, Smith felt her heart starting to race. She closed her eyes, willed herself not to panic. She had heard of bullets traveling inside the body, so she concentrated on holding still.

In her ear came the voice of a police officer, bent down close to her. "You look fine. I've seen worse," he was telling her.

At Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital's trauma center, the doctor talked to her. Partly because of reverberation from the bullet's impact, her nerves were so damaged they were no longer sending signals. One technical term would stick with her: The injury was "complete." She would almost certainly never walk again. But the baby was fine.

Smith watched Tisdale's head drop as the doctor spoke. They both cried, Tisdale careful not to become too emotional, for fear the hospital security guards would eject him.

All the way to the hospital, Smith had been thinking, "Is the baby OK? Is the baby OK?" But by this point, she had stopped caring about the pregnancy -- about anything but the pain. "It's sad to say, but it's true. I told them, 'I don't care about the baby right now, tell them to give me medicine!' "

Some medications are too dangerous to use on a pregnant woman. The doctors declined even to X-ray her spine for fear of harming the fetus.

In the coming weeks, Tisdale was back and forth between home and hospital, caring alone for the children, arranging child care, cleaning, cooking.

Doctors at Long Beach Memorial Hospital later operated on Smith's jaw, then wired it shut for four weeks. She was pregnant and very hungry. Tisdale brought her protein-infused Jamba Juice and mashed potatoes and gravy from Kentucky Fried Chicken. He also brought the children. Seeing her cry, Mariah would try to comfort her.

One of the bullets had damaged the nerves around her rib cage, causing constant shooting pain. Smith was still taking limited painkillers.

Tisdale took a leave of absence from his job. He was with Smith every day, watching everything the doctors did, knowing it would soon be his turn. He knew that, from the day she went home, she would have to urinate using a catheter and, with Tisdale's help, empty her bowels using a suppository every four to six hours, even at night.

With help from the state Victims of Crime program, Tisdale moved the family from Nickerson Gardens to an adapted apartment nearby and set it up for the day when she finally went home, July 27. She was nearly four months pregnant.

Their first mistake was to try to put the bed on the floor. It was too hard to get Smith up.

Tisdale felt financial pressure to return to his $8-an-hour job. Then, he worried he would be fired if he was late a single day. He asked for a second leave when the baby came in November and had to produce a doctor's note to get it.

Tisdale became a caretaker around the clock: for severely mentally ill adults at work; for the children; and for Smith at home. She could see how tired he was, and it worried her. But even if he could take a break, he would just worry about Smith, he said. The pace was exhausting. But, "this just seems like something I have to do right now," he said.

Smith was home all day, bored, depressed and in pain. Her legs would jerk uncontrollably and seize up. Friends visited, including Tisdale's family members when they could, but she grieved for all the things she could no longer do -- especially as a parent. How could she volunteer at her children's school now?

"It's going to be OK. You are still here. Your life is not over," Tisdale told her.

They had been happy about the baby, but now her feelings were more complicated. Because of her paralysis, she was scheduled to deliver by caesarean section. Then, she decided, she would have her tubes tied.

On the worst days, home alone sipping juice from a straw and trying to manage the pain with Tylenol and codeine, "it felt like the end of the world," she said. "I had a feeling of being the only soul living, the only soul suffering. I couldn't make up my mind that anyone was in worse condition than I am in."

At the same time, it still seemed unreal. She replayed the events of that night over and over in her head. At night, in secret, Smith would try to move her toes, just in case the doctors were wrong.

On better days, the couple felt a little bit of their old routine returning. Tyrin Jr. saw the wheelchair as a fun new toy. Smith's bosses and co-workers at Timcor, a manufacturer of dome structures, were sympathetic. She would be able to keep her job, and her co-workers held a fundraiser and presented her with a check for $5,000.

During her hospital stay, Smith had gotten to know Det. Linda Heitzman of the Los Angeles Police Department's Southeast Division. Heitzman had a suspect in her case, Evan Rivas, 31, a train conductor who worked in the Port of Los Angeles area. He is believed to have fled and is wanted on an arrest warrant on suspicion of attempted murder.

Heitzman said she was struck by the enormity of what had happened to Smith and her young family. How would they make ends meet with three children and hourly jobs, the detective wondered. How could Tisdale provide so much care without help? How could they adapt a crib so that Smith could lift the baby out?

Heitzman has worked for years in Watts and has long bemoaned the invisibility of victims like Smith. Violent crime is at historically low levels in the city. Even so, shootings are a constant backdrop in some neighborhoods. For every person who dies from homicide in Los Angeles, five survive gunfire: more than 1,700 people just this year.

Four days before Smith's scheduled delivery, two 25-year-old men were struck by gunfire just north of where she lives. One died, the other was left a paraplegic.

Heitzman said the shooting of a child occasionally makes the news. But mostly, "people just don't care, or they think, 'They had it coming,' " Heitzman said. " 'She's just one more number.' But if you want to look at who are the numbers, well, here's a taste. They aren't all gangster thugs. And even some of those are just kids anyway."

On Nov. 16, Smith gave birth to a girl -- addicted to her mother's pain medication but otherwise healthy. Smith named her Miracle.

She and Tisdale remain worried about the future -- about money, their ability to handle all this. But Smith said that in some ways, their relationship has grown stronger. "He saves me," she said of Tisdale. "He is the only one who makes me feel protected and OK."

Tisdale said he had reflected many times that Smith easily could have died.

"I think about if I had lost her. I don't know what I would be doing," he said. "Who would I talk to? Who would I come home to?"


Southeast Det. Linda Heitzman asks anyone with information about the May 27 brawl that led to Smith's injury to call (213) 972-7906.

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