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A different portrait of Jamiel Shaw II

June 20, 2008 |  3:32 pm

ShawHe had friends in the Rollin' 20s, part of the deadly Bloods gang, and was known by the nickname Deuces Wild.  When he was shot and killed, he was wearing a red belt  with black skulls and the number 20 associated with the gang. Could this be the very same Jamiel Shaw II,  the innocent high school athlete who was killed by an undocumented immigrant and alleged gang member in what many believe was a racially motivated shooting?

The troubling details of the Inglewood teenager's possible connections to gang life were revealed Thursday during a preliminary hearing. It's not the first time that someone has pointed out that Shaw's shooting might have to do more with gang rivalry than racial hatred. Earlier this month, an article in LA Weekly noted that online tributes and albums created by Shaw's friends includes photos of them flashing gang signs next to images of candles burning in the 17-year-old's honor.

Of course, many youths who live in gang territory often have friends and neighbors who are in gangs and may adopt their manner of dress and symbolism. That does not necessarily make them a gang member. Shaw's parents maintain that their son was not involved in gang life, and police said they never found Shaw, who has no arrest record, hanging out with known gang members. But police claim that Shaw's alleged killer, undocumented immigrant Pedro Espinoza, 19, has ties to the 18th Street gang, a rival of the Bloods.

Since Shaw's shooting March 2, his parents and others have used his death to put pressure on the Los Angeles Police Department to scrap a controversial rule that limits police inquiries into a suspect's immigration status. But the former football all-star's alleged gang ties could make him a less than ideal poster boy for the cause.

Growing questions about his gang connections and their possible role in his shooting also have undermined arguments that Shaw's death was largely the result of racial tensions between blacks and Latinos. After Thursday's hearing, Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope, said:

"We still support the family and want to make sure that justice is done, but we can no longer support the belief that Shaw was targeted because of his race."

—Jesus Sanchez

Photo: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times