By Ray Richardson
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The mother of a 13 year-old middle school student is considering filing a civil rights lawsuit and negligence claim against the Los Angeles Unified School District after her son was the victim of a fake memorial that claimed he had been fatally shot by gang members.
No such incident happened to Jamari Baker, an eighth-grade student at Bethune Middle School, raising concerns of harassment and mental anxiety for Baker, who has autism.
Baker has not attended classes since the display was discovered Feb. 3 on a hallway floor inside the school.
“What happened was really atrocious,” said Toni Jaramilla, an attorney representing Baker’s mother, Sophia Davis. “We’re exploring options to make the school accountable. We want to know what kind of investigation is being conducted.”
Lack of progress in the investigation and limited updates from LAUSD and Bethune officials has added to Davis’ frustration and the possibility of legal action. Community leaders have also expressed concerns over the fake memorial and lack of transparency in the investigation.
Najee Ali, president of Project Islamic Hope, sent a letter to California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond Feb. 16 asking Thurmond to conduct a state inquiry into the matter.
“Sophia has a right to be angry and disappointed,” Ali said. “We don’t think there was enough energy with this investigation in the beginning. We believe we’ll find out who’s responsible for this cruel behavior.”
A Bethune safety staff person came upon the display, which included three color photos of Baker. One of the photos featured the term “BREAKING NEWS,” an image similar to the phrase seen on television during newscasts. The phrase was accompanied by the words “…Shot and killed by gang members in south la.”
Another photo contained the words, “R.I.P. Jamari Baker. We will miss you.”
In addition to the photos, the display included a banana, two muffins and two candles.
The display was removed by school officials, but Davis learned the display was placed back in the same spot a few days later before it was removed again.
“I was told it was taken down, then put back up,” Davis said. “Nobody has a clue on who did it and why it was put there in the first place.”
In another attempt to get answers and advice, Davis said she went to the Los Angeles Police Department South Bureau to discuss filing a police report. She was informed by LAPD that they could not get involved until an “incident report” was filed by school district investigators. Davis was told no report has been submitted by the district.
Davis said she has been unsuccessful in getting further details from Bethune Principal Sharon Brown and LAUSD officials. Davis said she met briefly with Sergio Corral, an LAUSD investigator, after the display was discovered but has had no follow-up contact with Corral since then.
“They wanted me to let it go,” Davis said. “They tried to tell me it was a hoax, just some kids playing a prank. My heart’s been broken about this. I went to the school everyday for a few days after this happened to try to talk to Ms. Brown. The last time we talked was on the [Feb. 6]. I was given the name of a student to question. She said she would look into it. Have not heard back from her.”
Brown and Corral were unavailable for comment. An LAUSD spokesperson declined to provide more details on Davis’ complaint or the investigation but released a statement to The Wave.
“The safety of students and employees remains our top priority,” LAUSD said in the statement. “Any threat on campus, alleged or otherwise, is taken seriously. And each incident is fully investigated by our law enforcement partners. Los Angeles Unified does not condone any type of misconduct in our schools. Bethune Middle School and Los Angeles Unified are committed to providing a safe and nurturing learning environment for all students. We also are offering full support and campus resources to this student and family to assist in this situation.”
As of Feb. 22, Davis said she has had no contact with LAUSD regarding resources or assistance for her son. Davis said she has been trying to find another school for Jamari, who she said has been traumatized by the display and doesn’t want to return to Bethune.
Davis indicated that Jamari was taking special needs classes at Bethune but is a “bright kid.” She said Jamari will continue to take virtual classes at home until she finds another school for him.
In the meantime, Davis continues to hold out hope for a breakthrough in determining who is responsible for the fake memorial.
“I’m not giving up,” Davis said. “I’m going to keep pursuing this.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.