Five Youths Attack Old Man
June 23, 2008
On Father’s Day at a church in Chicago, Barack Obama preached that “of all the rocks upon which we build our lives…family is the most important.” And we must “recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation…They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success…But if we are honest…we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing – missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men.” The children of these missing fathers are “five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of schools, and twenty times more likely to end up in prison.”
In a hospital bed in Bakersfield, California, about the time Obama was speaking, Ezequiel Jimenez Perez was going to miss Father’s Day for the first time. He’d just been declared dead. Some of his family members, which include his wife of fifty-eight years, eight adult children, and many grandchildren, had desperately searched for him and called hospitals since the previous morning when, unknown to them, he was found unconscious, only two blocks from his home, in the south alley of the 1200 block of Niles Street, a wretched slice of town on the eastside. Police, for reasons still unexplained, did not immediately knock on enough doors to identify the victim. Their imperative instead was the pursuit of criminals. Before nightfall they’d arrested four suspects and on Father’s Day booked another – two age thirteen, two age fourteen, and a fifteen-year old.
Forty years ago Ezequiel Jimenez Perez had left Texas for Bakersfield, and here he worked for a steel fabrication company until his late sixties. In retirement he walked two miles a day, even at age eighty-one, and early mornings pushed a shopping cart through alleys in search of aluminum cans. He earned about eighty-five dollars a week doing this. Much greater was his spiritual reward for remaining active and motivated. On his final walk Ezequiel was nearly home when assailants pushed him down, repeatedly punched him in the head, battered him with a stick, and pummeled him with a bucket before they took his cans and cart and fled. Then they rushed back and again beat the old man. One of his daughters, Rosemary Perez, later said she could not recognize the disfigured corpse of her father.
The suspects were arraigned in juvenile court last week. As stipulated by California law, the two thirteen-year olds will be tried as minors and, if convicted of first degree murder and other enhancements, will be released from the California Youth Authority no later than age twenty-five. The deputy district attorney, Craig Smith, said his department would at a fitness hearing seek to try the three oldest suspects as adults since the crime indicated not merely brutality but an extended thought process in twice assailing the five-foot-five, one hundred ten pound victim. Another elderly collector of aluminum cans was also attacked. He survived but is reluctant to cooperate with police. Some of the youths, additionally, had gang affiliations and were on probation. The three oldest suspects are not eligible for the death penalty but could face life sentences. All five would leave confinement with two strikes.
On local talk radio, which is often redneck but occasionally insightful, one host, Jaz McKay of KNZR, noted the suspects at arraignment were supported by mothers and other women but no fathers. Where were the fathers who should’ve guided their sons? Were they in prison? Outside court, some mothers insisted their boys were good kids and couldn’t have committed such crimes. One proclaimed her son was just “in the wrong hood at the wrong time.” Whatever her son’s legal status is determined to be, he was indeed in a bad place. Last Thursday I drove over to check it out. The south alley of the impoverished 1200 block of Niles Street is a disgrace. Graffiti, more than I’ve ever seen, mars fences and apartments and shabby houses and abandoned shacks and even the dumpsters. Many people in this hood should use those dumpsters. Garbage surrounds them and lies rotting up and down the alley. Ezequiel Jimenez Perez deserved a better place.