A father’s forgiveness

How Azim Khamisa turned his son’s murder into a movement for ‘restorative justice’

TURNING PAIN INTO PEACE<br>After his only son was killed, Azim Khamisa befriended and forgave the gang-banger who shot him for no reason.

After his only son was killed, Azim Khamisa befriended and forgave the gang-banger who shot him for no reason.

Photo By matt siracusa

Thirteen years ago, Azim Khamisa’s only son was shot and killed in “a sudden, senseless death of an unarmed, innocent human being over a lousy pizza.” Since then the author and speaker has been teaching people there are “victims at both ends of the gun” in gang violence.

Khamisa spoke to nearly 200 people Monday evening (Oct. 20) at Chico State’s Performing Arts Center on the topic “Restorative Justice: A New Paradigm for Social Transformation,” which is the exploration of nonviolent responses to violent behavior in society.

On Jan. 21, 1995, 20-year-old San Diego State University student Tariq Khamisa was killed while delivering pizzas by a 14-year-old gang recruit, Tony Hicks. Hicks fired the fatal bullet on orders from an 18-year-old gang member.

In his grief, Azim Khamisa organized the Tariq Khamisa Foundation in honor of his son—dedicated, as its slogan says, to “breaking the cycle of youth violence by empowering kids, saving lives and teaching peace.”

“I started this organization to stop kids from killing kids,” he said.

Months after the death of his son, Khamisa met with Ples Felix, Hicks’ grandfather and guardian. Khamisa said Felix was just like him, someone who had “lost a child.” Khamisa invited his new friend to work alongside him in the foundation.

Hicks became the youngest child in California to be charged as an adult with murder. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life. At the age of 16, Hicks was sent to New Folsom, California State Prison in Sacramento.

Somehow, Khamisa had found a way to forgive his son’s killer. Five years later he met Hicks in prison.

“I remember looking in his eyes for a long time. … I never saw a murderer in him,” Khamisa said. He described the then-19-year-old as a charismatic, remorseful, well-spoken and well-mannered individual.

“I forgave him and told him he had a job when he came out with our foundation,” Khamisa continued. He is now lobbying the government to grant Hicks an earlier parole. All of this is the idea of restorative justice put to work.

“My son was a victim of a 14-year-old gang member, and I saw the 14-year-old gang member as a victim of society,” Khamisa said. He said the young gang-banger had never met his own father, had witnessed the murder of a family member by the time he was 9, and allowed his anger to steer him to the streets.

The TKF Web site, www.tkf.org, references a National Education Association article indicating some 760,000 kids belong to 24,000 gangs. Thirteen percent of urban youth grow up in gangs, Khamisa said, for a number of reasons including a search for respect, protection in inner cities where racial tensions are high, for a sense of belonging, or it may be a family lineage.

He questioned why the nation spends billions of dollars on wars on foreign soil when “every single day, our defenseless children are being wiped out.” It’s cheaper to send kids to college than prison, he continued.

“I believe we are more than thoughts and emotions—maybe the strongest organ of all is the soul,” he continued. “When I lost my son, I have never experienced pain like that. … The pain was so excruciating that I actually left my body. There’s nothing more painful for a parent than to lose a child.

“When the explosion subsided, I was left with the vision that there are victims at both ends of the gun,” he added.

He described three concepts in order for restorative justice to be successful.

The first is to make the victim whole. Khamisa has found meaning in his work associated with TKF.

The second step focuses on returning the perpetrator back to society as a functioning member.

Finally, the entire community must be healed. The foundation is active in schools, working to heal youth who have already been involved in violence and to prevent others from becoming victims.

Ultimately, Khamisa said, without forgiveness the rage, hatred and feelings of revenge “can be a consuming fire” that keeps the cycle of violence spinning.

“Forgiveness is something we all should try to work toward,” said Joe Smith, who attended the talk. “If a person [like Khamisa] can find forgiveness in a situation like that … our problems seem a little less.”

Tom Blodget, who introduced Khamisa on Monday, said the feelings of revenge and hatred associated with extreme violence can destroy a person. However, he was moved that Khamisa “turned his son’s tragedy, his son’s sacrifice to something positive.”

Khamisa’s visit was sponsored by the Chico Peace and Justice Center and The Peace Institute at Chico State, along with the English Graduate Student Council, the Student Coalition Advocating Reform, Campus, Involvement and Awareness.

A newly formed Restorative Justice Coalition meets the first Thursday of every month at Chico State. For information, contact Michael Coyle at mjcoyle@csuchico.edu.