God and Gangland

It's not from the Los Angeles Times' religion reporter, but the paper has here a well-done story heavy on religious themes. The story centers around the funeral for a 5-year-old boy shot to death while showcasing his Spider-Man costume in his grandparents' backyard.

The suspected killers mistakenly took Aaron Jerel Shannon Jr.'s family to be gang members. Police have said they were not. And Aaron's death has galvanized the community.

At least that is what people are saying. I've seen enough of these deaths -- I even reported from the Compton the funeral of an 11-year-old girl whose shooting death led to the formation of a community task force and introduction of federal legislation -- to be skeptical. But we can hope.

As for the eternal hope present in Aaron's death, here's a snippet of the funeral scene from LAT ace Scott Gold:

"We come before you, Lord, with few words," said Seth Gaiters, a church elder. "We know not what to say."

Relatives passed around a program that gamely reflected Aaron's life, as if he'd reached maturity.

It noted that he had attended a preschool in Compton called Little Lambs, that he'd recently begun kindergarten at Caldwell Elementary School. A boisterous extrovert, he was flourishing at school, and the program noted everyone he'd grown close to -- his classmates, his teacher, the crossing guard. His favorite movie, the obituary noted, was "School of Rock," and he frequently complimented friends when he liked their outfits.

Caldwell Principal Fredricka Brown recalled rushing to the hospital when she heard word of the shooting.

"I felt like that was almost my child," she told the crowd.

Brown said she prayed: "Lord, can you make this change?"

If you don't know Gold's name, he wrote a whole series about gang life in the Southland. As far as I know, religion reporting is not his forte. But often the two collide.

How they collide is sort of missing here. I'm also not really convinced that this funeral was any more "a deeply religious affair" than most. And I would have liked to have seen more about how this was testing community members' faith -- it's one thing to say it but another to show it.

Overall this story was a good scene setter that had potential to be a lot more.

One possible story to explore: Why do Christians remain in communities where they know they're kids aren't safe?

Obviously, a lack of social mobility is significant. But I've also heard Christians say that they feel personally unable to leave low-income neighborhoods where they have spent many years because if they did, who would remain to minister to the community.

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