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Ears

By Frank Gruber

At the funeral mass for Hector Bonilla and Jonathan Hernandez at St. Anne's Church, the priest, Father Michael D. Gutierrez, used two scriptural references as the bases for his sermon.

One, from the Gospel of John, was Jesus' commandment to "love one another as I have loved you." The other, specifically from Matthew, was how Jesus often prefaced his parables with the words, "If you have ears, listen."

From my angle in the church, it was clear that when Father Gutierrez said, "if you have ears," he was directing his comments at the young men with shaved heads and black shirts who were sitting in the two rows reserved for pallbearers.

I don't know if it was planned, but those seats gave the young men good views of the caskets.

Unless and until the police catch the killers, we, the public will not know what happened that night at the Moose Lodge beyond the level of rumor. Numerous people, however, with ties to the families, have told me that the shooters were from outside Santa Monica, i.e., from a gang outside Santa Monica. Why they came to Santa Monica that night, bent on killing -- that's a mystery to us but probably not to everyone.

Father Gutierrez made several references in his sermon to the unselfish love that someone has who lays down his life for a friend. The two victims both were young men with gang histories, but who both seem to have been trying to turn their lives around and get out of that life. I inferred from Father Gutierrez's remarks that one if not both of them died protecting someone else.

The only reason I'm engaging in speculation is when we read about the deaths of Hector Bonilla and Jonathan Hernandez, the tendency might be to focus too much on their status as victims -- even heroes if in fact they laid down their lives -- and not enough on the cycle of violence that not only led to their deaths but also turned another two young men into vicious killers -- also victims.

The gang war in 1998 began when Santa Monica gang members killed a gang member from somewhere else who had come to Santa Monica to attend court-mandated meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many innocents died before it was over.

Hopefully this gang war will have ended in the Moose Lodge.

One more scriptural note. After the mass Father Gutierrez told me that the reference in Matthew to "ears" is more powerful in Spanish than in English, because in Spanish there is one word for human ears, and another for the ears of animals.

In other words, in Spanish, what Jesus was saying was "if you are human and you have ears, listen."

"If you are human." I see Father Gutierrez's point, but then it begs a question that brings us back to John.

If you are human, should you need a commandment to love?

* * *

Near the moment the lives of Hector Bonilla and Jonathan Hernandez were about to end, when three children were about to become orphans, and pain was about to ripple through the community as if a brick were thrown into a pond, my wife, my son, my parents and I were milling around outside Barnum Hall with other happy families after having seen the Samohi production of "The Music Man."

How can it be that in more or less the same time and place, some young people are singing and dancing their hearts out while some others are preparing to shoot out the hearts of others?

In response to my March 7 column, the one about the February 26 Gang Violence Workshop, I received this in an email from civic activist Joanne Leavitt:

"Every teenager needs a gang. These can be positive or negative. I have long said the biggest gang at Samo is the band. These kids have bonded, they hang together even when they don't need to. Grads come home on break and hang with the kids a year or two younger than them. This is across the whole music program. . . .

"What we need is more positive gangs for kids to join. Places they can get that sense of family, of belonging to something that is outside their own family. That is a part of growing up, of becoming an individual and not just a child of your family."

It was odd receiving that email from Ms. Leavitt just after having heard Professor Harold Hill tell River City parents they had trouble, and the solution was a boys' band.

It's a sad fact I have noticed over several years of attending school district musicales, that the higher the level of the band, orchestra, or choir, the lower the percentage of black and brown faces. Since music ordinarily plays an important role in both African-American and Latino cultures, an obvious factor to attribute this to is the disadvantage poorer people have when it comes to music education outside of school.

Then last Thursday evening I attended Stairway of the Stars, where Jackson Browne, who helped the Education Foundation raise so much money last year for the arts, echoed Prof. Hill. He didn't dwell on the recent troubles in Santa Monica, but he did remind us of the good that music can do academically and socially for young people.

The Education Foundation is holding this year's "For the Arts" fundraiser April 8, 9 and 10, and everyone should participate. Money raised last year has gone to early childhood music education, which is crucial, especially in the schools with children from families too poor to pay for private music lessons. It also funded the first ever music program -- guitar lessons -- at Olympic Continuation High School.

I know people are going to think I am under the influence of Prof. Harold Hill, but I suggest quite seriously that the City under the auspices of Rec & Parks or Lifelong Learning initiate a program of neighborhood bands, complete with music lessons and instrument loans or inexpensive rentals -- for all ages.

This could be a great multi-generational and cross-cultural program, climaxing in a great annual band festival.

Just one idea. We need more.


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