Politics & Policy

Wanted: Mothers & Fathers

A murder in L.A. illustrates a national problem.

It was a murder that shocked the city…for about two days. And then the horror of it all receded into the horror of all the others: It was the 30th murder in the LAPD’s 77th Street Division this year, the 198th in Los Angeles as a whole. By the time you read this both numbers will almost surely be higher.

On May 15 a woman looking for recyclables in a South-Central Los Angeles trash bin found instead the body of an 11-year-old boy. Bryan Lockley, a sixth grader at a local middle school, had been killed by a shotgun blast to the chest, his body tossed in the bin to be hauled off to the garbage dump. News of the murder brought a swift and energetic response from the LAPD, and late the following evening detectives arrested their suspect: Lockley’s 14-year-old cousin. But the story, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, is about much more than the death of one child and the arrest of another. Given the sorrows the boys had seen in their short lives, the reader might be forgiven for shaking his head and saying, “Well, what did anyone expect?”

According to a Times story from May 18, both boys were brought up by their common maternal grandmother, Mildred Lockley-Pickens, and her husband, Willie Pickens. The only contribution the boys’ fathers made to their lives was the sperm that impregnated their mothers, both of whom were drug addicts. Bryan’s mother, in fact, completed a drug-rehabilitation program in a Los Angeles suburb the very day her son was killed. She arrived at her mother’s apartment that day expecting congratulations but instead found detectives investigating the murder. The suspect’s mother hasn’t been heard from in years.

As we debate whether a child can have two fathers or two mothers, can we at least agree that a child is harmed when he has no mother and no father? A May 1999 Census Bureau report, Coresident Grandparents and Grandchildren, tells of the sharp rise in the number of children being raised by their grandparents. In 1970 there were 2.2 million children living in homes maintained by grandparents. By 1980 the figure had risen modestly to 2.3 million, or about 3 percent of all children under age 18. In 1997 there were 3.9 million such children, or 5.5 percent of all minors in the country. The report attributes this increase to “the growth in drug use among parents, teen pregnancy, divorce, the rapid rise of single-parent households, mental and physical illness, AIDS, crime, child abuse and neglect, and incarceration of parents.” Most police officers, especially those working in the grittier areas of large cities, are well aware of the consequences of these numbers. Even the healthiest grandparent is no match for the typical American teenager. Add the infirmities of advancing age and the lure of street life for a boy in the inner city and you have, as was so tragically shown in the murder of Bryan Lockley, a recipe for disaster.

Readers of the Los Angeles Times have thus far been spared the expected editorials on the evils of guns in the home, but neither has the paper explored more deeply the circumstances of the two boy’s upbringing. I would be curious to learn more about the mother and two fathers who were unnamed and all but unmentioned in the stories I read about the case. But I won’t hold my breath. Scrutinizing these people would invite judgment, and we mustn’t have any of that.

I have for years been working on a novel which nonetheless remains very much in its embryonic stage. It is set in South-Central Los Angeles, and in one passage two cops are discussing a murder rather like that of Bryan Lockley. One cop asks the other what he would do to solve the crime problem. “It’s simple,” he answers. “I’d take every kid who’s born and I’d give him a mother and a father who’ll love him and keep him safe. Then I’d put him in a school where the teachers care about him and teach him all the right things. And when he’s grown up I’d make sure he did the same for his own kids.”

“Sounds pretty good,” the first cop says. “I wonder why nobody ever thought of it before.”

Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.


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