Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for August 18, 2008

Of course, the real tragedy is that it ain't gonna change a thing...LaWanda's lost life won't save one teenager from doing the same damned thing.

In the last sentence of the article...LaWanda's Grandmother says it all.

From the New York Times...

This Land
Gunshots, Then Silence: And the Sorrow Spreads


People hit the Alabama ground the other night when another argument by gunfire broke out in Birmingham. Not everyone got back up.

The bicker of bullets sent a retired couple, the Readuses, low to the floor: Calvin in the bedroom, where he had been watching the Olympics, and Gloria in the kitchen, where she had been reading Proverbs, third chapter, fifth verse. Only a sustained quiet raised them up again, with the call to trust in the Lord now so fresh in Gloria’s heart.

Across Steiner Avenue, in the green house always redolent of something good on the stove, Allman Alford also stood up. Something made him want to go outside. Something made his wife, Monica Russell, go with him.

There, out on the dark street, under a gnarly old tree and across from an abandoned church, they found a girl of 17 who had not gotten up: their daughter, LaWanda Russell. Here she was, just hours after selecting an outfit for her first day at a new high school: bleeding, barely conscious, cut down in an American crossfire.

“Baby,” said her father, kneeling beside her. “Daddy’s here.”

Their baby shook her head. Drew two more breaths. “And she was gone,” he later recalls, in the green house now smelling of flowers.

LaWanda Russell became Birmingham’s 55th homicide this year; the 56th came the next day. An editorial in The Birmingham News quickly condemned the continuing “mayhem,” and called on this city of 230,000 to develop “a simmering, determined, constructive anger” — a resolve, really, to protect its children.

“We are better people than this,” the newspaper said.

But in the tight-knit west end neighborhood where a teenager lived and lost her brief life, plaintive calls for a better tomorrow must wait. Right now there is only yesterday and today; the before and the after.

The before: LaWanda Russell alive.

The baby of the family, she long ago chose Tweety Bird as her personal mascot, just as her mother had chosen Barbie dolls and her sister had chosen Winnie the Pooh. She had a Tweety Bird jacket, Tweety Bird socks.

Wonderful with children. Wanted to be a pediatrician. Liked to wear clothes that showed off her athletic figure. Never met a stranger, her father says. “If she walked in right now, she’d start talking to you.”

This house was the neighborhood house: restaurant, day care center, community hall. LaWanda’s grandmother, Eliza Mae Bandy, 66, a longtime cook in the public school system, moved here decades ago as one of the block’s first black residents. She was known for feeding everybody, from the old men at the social club down the block to the young boys next door.

Last Sunday, with Ms. Bandy sitting right here on her porch, a young man came up to that house beside her and shot his gun into the door the way someone else might knock with a fist — part of a dispute between two groups of men, the police say. The grandmother ran for cover, fearing this was the beginning of something, not the end.

The next night, Monday night, LaWanda took the short walk to a convenience store on Pearson Avenue where displays of beer envelop displays of cheap candy, no matter the sign saying “No School Kids.” The plexiglass protecting the clerk is adorned with snapshots of smiling bearers of winning lottery tickets not worth all that much.

There, homicide detectives say, she got into a black Nissan Maxima driven by a man she was seeing — the same man who had shot up her neighbor’s door. Behind that door lived two brothers she had known all her life; they had practically grown up on her grandmother’s macaroni and cheese. Now her friend and these brothers were using guns instead of words to settle what the police are calling a “beef.”

When the Maxima returned LaWanda a short while later to her neighborhood, the shooting commenced. Bullets hit the car, wounding a man in the back seat. Someone in the car returned fire. In houses close by, people who knew LaWanda as a baby fell to the floor.

The Maxima’s driver frantically struggled to get the car out of neutral, the police say, as one of the brothers emerged from his house with an AK-47, an assault rifle intended for battle, not beefs. He began bullet-spraying his own small world, just as LaWanda left the car and began running.

“She is trying to make it home,” says Detective Eric Torrence. “She gets caught in the cross.”

Many bullets tore into the night. Several whistled past the Green Acres fried chicken place and across Pearson Avenue. Some riddled a rundown duplex, shattering the glass of a screen door that the tenant keeps shut with a shoelace, sending her and her young children to the floor, pocking the wall just inches from where family portraits hang. Two hit LaWanda, piercing her chest and severing her left hand.

The after: LaWanda dead.

Her “so-called friends,” as the police chief called them, sped away under gunfire; detectives say they will not be charged in her death. Those two brothers fled, and are wanted by the police. One of them paused in flight long enough to call LaWanda’s home and ask if she had died. Yes, her grandmother told the caller, someone she’d known all his life. Yes, LaWanda passed.

That night, and continuing through the week, relatives and friends, neighbors and classmates, made their way to the green house on Steiner Avenue. They brought cold-cut platters, fried chicken, cake, soda, hugs. They sat under the gaze of small ceramic angels and choirboys in the living room and listened as family members talked and fell silent, talked and fell silent.

How LaWanda’s mother heard the gunfire and just knew her daughter had been shot. How LaWanda’s father tried to comfort his baby. How one of LaWanda’s cousins saw the neighbor walking back to the house next door, AK-47 in hand. How the parents of the brothers — the next-door neighbors — have been charged with hindering prosecution: the mother accused of collecting the abandoned getaway car, the father accused of collecting spent casings off the ground before the police could find them.

Now it is Friday in the neighborhood, hours before the viewing, a day before the funeral. The people across the street, Calvin and Gloria Readus, have already made one tribute — a silk-flower Tweety Bird memorial, patterned after one of LaWanda’s socks — and another in progress is draped across their ironing board: a coffin spray of roses, carnations and stargazers.

While Ms. Readus tends to these cut flowers, her husband walks across to the green house, LaWanda’s house, and sits down. Since the shooting he has gone door to door, all the way down to the Piggly Wiggly, seeking donations to cover funeral costs. So far, $360.

LaWanda’s mother and sister are out, preparing for the public grieving that awaits them. Her flat-eyed father sits in a chair wearing a loose-fitting shirt with a pattern of handprints, as though left by a laying on of hands.

More people come and go. All the while, a gray-haired woman in a white housecoat, sitting off to the side, quietly keeps saying the same thing. She is Eliza Mae Bandy, grandmother to LaWanda and to the neighborhood, and what she is saying is: “It still ain’t over.”