Father turns grief into mission to end violence

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

After La Jollan Azim Khamisa’s 20-year-old son was shot to death by a gang member as he delivered pizzas, the father could have turned to revenge and hatred but instead chose forgiveness and salvation.

This path ultimately led him to befriend the 14-year-old who had murdered his son and the youth’s grandfather, as well as to establish a nonprofit group, the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, aimed at breaking the cycle of youth violence by saving lives, teaching peace and planting hope.

“I took a different response to this tragedy,” Khamisa told La Jolla Kiwanis Club at its weekly lunch meeting last Friday. “What I saw was victims at both ends of the gun.”

Khamisa, a Moslem and a native-born Kenyan who is a naturalized American citizen, described the aftermath of his son’s death as a transformative experience.

“I felt I must take my share of the responsibility for the bullet that took my son’s life because it was fired by an American child,” he said. “I saw the 14-year-old gang member as a victim of society, our society. Every one of us as Americans is responsible for the society we have created.”

Taking responsibility led the international banker to find out everything he could about youth gangs. What he learned altered his point of view — and his life — forever.

“Over the last 15 years I’ve met people who’ve come from four or five generations of gangs: They were literally born into that tradition,” he said, noting 75 children in gangs are shot daily in the United States and 16 of them die. “We’re spending on wars on foreign soil and right here every single day in our own backyard our defenseless children are being wiped out in a frenzy of violence.”

Since his son’s death, Khamisa has been working to secure an earlier release for his son’s slayer. The man’s grandfather has also joined him in his anti-gang nonprofit foundation, which has grown to 50 employees. Khamisa said the man who killed his son would one day join him and his group in their efforts.

During a question-and-answer period, one La Jolla Kiwanian asked Khamisa what his views were on gun control.

Noting the right to bear arms is embodied in the Constitution, he replied, “I have an issue with machine guns and ‘midnight special’ handguns,” he said. “We’re not in the front line in a war zone. These are not made for putting food on the table. They’re made for killing human beings.”

The social activist blamed TV and movies, in part, for desensitizing people to violence, noting children are exposed literally to tens of thousands of images of violence while they’re growing up through various kinds of media.

As an aside, Khamisa said he would like to see all reference to race erased.

“If we don’t get that we are one human race, how are we going to get to peace?” he asked.

What Khamisa has been through in the last 15 years with his son’s tragic death and his mission to break the cycle of youth violence has led him to one inescapable conclusion.

“You cannot destroy dark with dark,” he said. “You cannot destroy violence with violence. We teach that violence is never the appropriate reason. It always makes things worse — not better.”

To learn more about the foundation, go to