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In the wake of the April 17 shooting death of 22-year-old Lorenzo Smith, who was killed while at a party in a recording studio in the 1600 block of North La Brea Avenue, Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, which assists at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to become contributing members of their community, has come out in defense of Smith.
Smith, who had a criminal record, worked for Boyle for seven months.
“He had spent one-third of his life locked up,” Boyle said. “He was hired as part of our janitorial crew, but then he moved into our accounting department. He liked numbers. He liked to say, ‘I used to steal money, now I count it.’ Knowing him was something more powerful than death.”
Father Boyle even took Smith with him on a trip to Northern California where Smith served as a speaker, talking about his troubled experiences.
“We went to the Bay Area on a trip where he spoke,” Boyle said. “It was pretty great.”
Boyle said Smith was not a victim of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It wasn’t the wrong place,” Boyle said. “He was at a club. He ran into these guys and the gang thing reared its ugly head.”
Those “guys” included known gang members Glen Wagner, Miguel Estrada, Brittany Jackson and Paul Benoit, who were arrested on May 5. The LAPD is currently seeking one other suspect, Kevin Anthony White, who is believed to be in the Compton/Lynwood area. According to LAPD homicide detectives, the gang members argued and confronted Smith before drawing weapons and firing numerous shots.
The news of Smith’s death struck a blow to many at Homeboy Industries.
“He was much beloved,” Boyle said. “We all went to his funeral. It was a great loss. I would like to say this is a population that’s not used to people dying early, but unfortunately this is something they’re used to.”
Boyle doesn’t believe gang violence is on the rise, even with the shooting death of Smith and the recent murders of Cali Swag District rapper M-Bone, who was killed May 15 in Inglewood, and nightclub owner Alonzo Ester, shot to death in the driveway of his Baldwin Hills home May 13.
“I wouldn’t say so,” Boyle said. “The numbers indicate it’s half of what it used to be.”
Boyle, dubbed by many as Father G, believes “nothing stops a bullet like a job.” Yet he points out that most employers just aren’t willing to look beyond the “dumbest or worst thing someone has done.” He believes members of the public need to find the moral imperative as a society to secure places in the workforce for those who just need a chance to prove themselves. Boyle said what he and Homeboy Industries need are “people willing to hire folks.”
“[Homeboy employees] end up proving themselves to be really good workers,” Boyle said. “They all want to prove themselves. It’s all about hope. [Smith’s death] was about a lethal absence of hope. Offer hope and opportunity, then that’s going to change the equation.”
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