The homicide rate in Los Angeles County this year continues to rise at an alarming rate — 95 percent higher than at the same point in 2020, according to law enforcement officials.
Connie Chavarria believes the public should be equally alarmed at the overall numbers of unsolved homicides in the county.
Chavarria knows about this firsthand. It’s been eight years since her “significant other” and business partner, Kenny Fulks-Jackson, was murdered in Van Nuys.
Fulks-Jackson, 33, was shot and killed on May 9, 2013, inside a cell phone store the couple owned. He and Chavarria had been together for 12 years, and were the parents of two children.
LAPD homicide detectives continue to investigate Fulks-Jackson’s killing, but it’s also a “cold case.”
But Chavarria is hopeful a break in the case might be coming.
Last October, LADP investigators released for the first time a video of Fulks-Jackson speaking to someone in the parking lot of the strip mall where the business is located on the same night he was killed.
And, after eight years, Los Angeles city officials are offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the identification, apprehension and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the murder.
“Once the reward was announced, we’ve gotten a few people who have called in, but they still don’t have enough evidence to move forward in pinpointing who it might be,” Chavarria said. “We believe it’s somebody in the San Fernando Valley, the Van Nuys-Pacoima area.”
Chavarria credits the efforts of LaWanda Hawkins and her foundation, Justice for Murdered Children, in getting LA officials to provide the reward offer.
“LaWanda was the one who really helped me get to where I am with my case,” said Chavarria, adding she is now on the Justice for Murdered Children board (and also on the board of Justice for Homicide Victims).
Keep in Contact with Investigators
Chavarria first met Hawkins in 2015, during a National Day of Remembrance for Murdered Victims event held at the Rose Hills Cemetery in Whittier, where Fulks-Jackson is buried.
“LaWanda came up to me and asked who I was there for,” Chavarria said. “She [eventually] took me under her wing and was able to talk with detectives in a way I was unable to.”
She said she also learned that families of murder victims must continuously communicate with detectives on the status of the investigations — even if those investigations take weeks, months or even years.
“One thing I can say: if you’re not on them and calling them, and building a relationship, they can forget about your case because they always have another case — there’s never a break for them. And now that the homicide rates are skyrocketing again, and other crimes are happening, you have to continue to call them even if you feel you’re bothering them,” Chavarria said.
“I’d almost lost hope. I felt like I was calling 5-6 times a day. [But] something else the detectives told me — they said a lot of families aren’t pushing the detective teams they’re working with. A detective told me, ‘I don’t get a lot of families that are fighting for their loved ones. You’re rare.’”
Murdered Son Inspires Creation of Foundation
Hawkins and her family have an unsolved homicide case that dates further back than Chavarria’s.
In 1995 Hawkins lost her only son, Reggie, also to gun violence. The 19-year-old was found shot to death on the streets of San Pedro. His death prompted Hawkins and others to found Justice for Murdered Children in 1996.
Hawkins states on the foundation’s website that she and other parents who had lost children to homicide “discovered that their cases were going unsolved,” and that they had been left out of the criminal justice process.
“Together [we] felt the need to form ‘Justice For Murdered Children,’” Hawkins said.
Based in San Pedro, the foundation advocates for families of homicide victims and provides images for the public of adults as well as children, — because, as Hawkins puts it, “Everyone is someone’s child” — whose cases are unsolved.
The nonprofit foundation has helped push for legislation to aid crime victims, and offers monthly support groups for families of murder victims, daily counseling with licensed therapists, community education on how to inform law enforcement about criminal activities, and assistance to family survivors and witnesses navigating through the criminal justice system.
In 2019, the foundation began a digital billboard and bus stop campaign displaying images of victims to try and help investigators receive new information that could lead to solving the now cold cases.
The outdoor advertising company Clear Channel donates the billboard space. The billboards rotate the images every four weeks to spotlight different victims, while the bus-shelter posters feature 48 homicide victims whose cases remain unsolved.
“The importance is to bring attention to these unsolved homicides, to show people anyone could be a victim,” Hawkins said, noting that “victims range” in age, race, gender and financial circumstances.
“We want people to know that murder affects us all and that these lives mattered,” she said.
On Saturday, July 17, the latest billboard was unveiled in Long Beach. Hawkins was there with known Southland community activists like Najee Ali. Also present were law enforcement representatives from the Long Beach Police Department, the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“A lot of people were shocked to see there were so many cases unsolved. I believe the Sheriff’s Department indicated they had over 5,000 unsolved cases, and I think LAPD has 2,000; that’s a lot of unsolved homicides,” Hawkins said.
And in 2021, the homicide rate so far has been distressingly high. According to published reports, the LAPD has said 141 people were reported murdered in the city through June 8. The Sheriff’s Department reported 87 murders in its last release (through April). By comparison, 350 were killed in the city of Los Angeles for all of 2020. And that total was a 36 percent increase from 2019.
Hawkins said too many victims and unsolved cases occur in Black, Latino, and low-income communities.
“We hear the elected officials saying, ‘Black and Brown Lives Matter.’ That’s a little confusing, when they say their lives matter and we have a [95 percent] increase in murders. And we don’t see nothing coming down the pipeline to assist — not even with the unsolved murders in their own districts,” Hawkins said.