How the murder of a high school football star became a rallying cry on Trump's campaign trail
- Nobody has watched over the 45th president’s first 100 days more closely than one heartbroken father whose escapist dream for his son started on an L.A. football field, ended with two blasts from a .45 and was ultimately turned into a political rallying cry.
On a warm afternoon last August, 56-year-old Jamiel Shaw Sr. sat on the front porch of his Mid-City, Los Angeles home in his usual state, a mix of agitation, anger and hope. On a table sat a pitcher of iced lemonade and two glasses placed there by his younger sister, Althea, aunt to his deceased son, Jamiel Jr., whom everyone called Jas (pronounced like the music).
Althea excused herself and went inside, and Jamiel Sr. began talking about Jas—his stellar high school football career, the D-I recruiters who started calling after his 2007 junior year, his death that same off-season at the hand of an undocumented Mexican-born gang member. Jamiel Sr. spoke about Jas while dipping in and out of his two other favorite topics: his country’s dire need to deport all undocumented immigrants, and the presidential election, which was then 12 weeks away. Hillary Clinton held a comfortable lead in the polls back then over Jamiel Sr.’s choice, Donald Trump, but Jamiel remained hopeful, even as he sat surrounded by neighbors who resented him for the Trump sign in his yard, which he conceded “has been stolen a couple of times.”
“I hate illegal immigration,” Shaw said calmly, his fingertips hanging from the ends of wooden armrests. “I don’t hate illegal aliens, per se, because I understand that I can’t say, Oh it’s your fault my son is dead. I just tell them, Your practice of coming here illegally is why my son is dead. . . . By you perpetrating it over and over . . . it’s kind of desensitizing [us to] it and, you know, now my son is dead. And no one cares about the avoidable way it happened.”
Jamiel Sr. voted for Trump last November because of the murder that occurred on the sidewalk outside his house on March 2, 2008. The events of that day are why Shaw took the stage on opening night of the Republican National Convention and declared into a microphone, as a faint “Build! The! Wall!” chant wafted among the delegates, “Only Trump will stand against terrorists and end illegal immigration. . . . Trump is sent from God.” The murder of Shaw’s son is why he was featured in a 30-second Trump for President TV ad during the campaign, and it is what seated him next to the First Lady during President Trump’s first speech before Congress, on Feb. 28.
The depth of the anguish wrought by his son’s murder, however, is why none of these moments have given Jamiel Shaw Sr. the slightest bit of relief. The death of Jas Shaw—a tragedy that was both a slow burn and a split-second spasm, a crime both predictable and random—has many lessons to impart about the current state of this country. Or it has none at all. If nothing else, the aftermath might aid historians’ understanding of the Trump movement. A certain part of the American populace wants to depict its 45th president’s loyalists as a dim-witted mob that believes everything it is spoon-fed and that condemns minorities at every turn. Trump’s opponents, meanwhile—for all of their talk of tolerance and empathy—deny the possibility that they might have voted for him, too, had the most unjust and most debilitating of life’s experiences come their way.
Resist the urge to judge Jamiel Shaw Sr. Refrain from trying to poke holes in his position. Don’t assume intellectual superiority. To achieve even a glimmer of understanding of what led him down this road, just listen.
“Yeah, I’m pissed off,” he said on his porch, glaring at his small front yard. “I am hurt and mad and all that. That’s why I tell my story so much. People say, If I told that story that much I’d be in an insane asylum. But I know my only alternative is to try to make people feel what I feel. So I just tell what happened.”
The life of Jas Shaw bears a haunting resemblance to the life of Ricky Baker, the fictional character played by Morris Chestnut in Boyz n the Hood. College-bound high school football star gunned down in L.A. gang crossfire. . . .
The main differences: Jas was a good student, and he wasn’t headed to USC. Then-Trojans coach Pete Carroll “had a look at him,” according to Jamiel Sr., but it never got any further. Says Jamiel Sr.: “Pete told Jas, ‘I wanna see how big your father is; I wanna see your physical potential.’ ” Jamiel Sr., who stands about 5’7”, a few inches shorter than Jamiel, emits a rare chuckle. “I just said, ‘Uh-oh.’ ”
“A lot of schools were interested, but he was still in 11th grade. We didn’t commit to nothing. I said, ‘We’re gonna wait till the last day, get you something good and get the hell outta here.” Jamiel Sr. disqualified local universities. “Go. See the world. You made it.”
College was to be the culmination of what Shaw calls “my 18-year-plan.” Basketball, soccer and flag football in Normandie Park at age five. Pop Warner ball with the Wilshire Huskies throughout elementary school. Year-round participation in all sports so that Jas would be a complete athlete, without weaknesses. By high school, he was among the fastest teenagers in L.A.
“In Pop Warner, they never want you to field the ball [on a punt] because they’re afraid you’re gonna drop it,” Jamiel Sr. notes. “Jas would never get a runback because he was afraid the coaches might get mad. They’d be like, ‘Get away from it!’ When he got to high school, he was doing the same thing. So one day I said, ‘Check this out. From now on—’
“He said, ‘No, Dad! I know what you’re gonna say.’
“I said, ‘That was Pop Warner! This is different. If the ball bounces right, pick it up and see what happens.”
Jas tried it, reluctantly, and scored on one of the weaving, winding returns for which he was about to become notorious in L.A.’s City section, which has produced dozens of current NFL players. “That was ninth grade,” Jamiel Sr. says.
Jas was named MVP at Los Angeles High that year—and the two years following. His junior season, his finest and final year, he averaged 25.8 yards per punt return. As a running back he gained more than half that, an astounding 14.2 yards, each time he ran the ball from scrimmage, totaling 1,052 yards on just 74 carries. He made 52 tackles and an interception on defense, and he was named first-team All-Invitational Division after carrying the Romans to a rare postseason appearance.
Like Ricky Baker in Boyz n the Hood, Jas had friends who were in gangs. Like Ricky, Jas was not a gang member himself, despite the photos on his mySpace page showing him twisting his fingers like one of the Rollin’ 20s Bloods, the gang whose turf covered Jas’s street. The LAPD concluded as much after a series of investigations. L.A. Superior Court judge Ronald Rose even stated near the end of the murder trial for Jas’s killer that “any argument . . . that the victim was a gang member and threatened the defendant was not supported by any evidence presented at trial.”
Rose also laid out in stark terms the differences between Jas and Pedro Espinoza, the 19-year-old gang member who ended Shaw’s life: “The evidence was overwhelming that Jamiel . . . was a hard-working student and worked extra hours to maintain his grades and prepare for college. He was loved by his parents, family, friends, neighbors, teammates, classmates and coaches. His death had a great impact on all of these people.
“The defendant” the judge continued, having ruled that Espinoza’s illegal alien status could not be mentioned in court so as not to sway the jury, “had been involved in gang activity since approximately the age of 10. He had a lengthy history of violent activities on behalf of his gang . . . and he decided to murder a defenseless victim in cold blood. He then chose to brag about the killing.”
Unlike Boyz n the Hood, Jas’s story had a gruff, no-nonsense Dad character who watched his son’s football games from the highest corner of the bleachers, arms folded, deeply invested, immensely proud, but refusing to believe any of it because dreams didn’t come true in this part of the city, in the grid of numbered streets between Koreatown and the 10 Freeway, as often as they did in others.
Hoping against hope, Jamiel Sr. kept on Jas about his grades. The grades are what drew Stanford’s interest. “I did call and ask about the kid,” says Clayton White, who nine years ago recruited L.A. for the Cardinal. “If Stanford calls to ask about you, you’ve done a lot of things right in your life.”
As if this setup weren’t ripe enough for a heart-wrenching turn, there was also Jas’s mother, Anita Shaw, an Army sergeant who was serving in Iraq at the time. “If you’re a military family,” Jamiel Sr. explains, “you don’t ever want to see someone coming to your house in a military uniform, right? Well they got her the same way, but she was in Iraq. Caught her off guard. She was wondering, What did I do? And then they tell her, ‘Your son is dead.’ She was like, What the hell am I here for? I’m in Iraq, on my second tour of duty, and my son gets killed in the streets by a foreigner.”
A few weeks before that, Jamiel Sr. had spent $5,000 on an online recruiting package for his son. In exchange, a popular website showcased Jas’s stats and video highlights for college coaches to see. “And it worked,” Jamiel Sr. says. “Scouts started coming around. [Jas] would say, ‘Hey, Dad, somebody from West Virginia was up at the school. . . . Texas came by the other day.”
“No matter where he went, he would have gotten a degree out of it,” Jamiel Sr. adds. “My whole thing was: Just get him to 18. Just get him to 18.”
Jas was 17 years and 70 days old on March 1, 2008.
Says his father: “The day before my son got killed, he asked, ‘Hey, Dad, can I go to this party?’ I said, ‘Pfft—man, you must be crazy. A party? Around here?!’ I said, ‘Nah, man. You wanna know why?’ He said, ‘I know why. I might get shot.’ He started laughing, like, Dad, you be trippin’; ain’t nothin’ going on like that.”
Jamiel Sr. won that battle. Jas stayed home.
Earlier that day, Espinoza, a member of L.A.’s 18th Street gang, was released from jail after serving 103 days of a 180-day sentence for assault with a firearm. (County jail officials would later claim they never knew Espinoza was an undocumented alien; thus, a deportation order was not waiting for the three-time felon and known gang member.) That crime had occurred the previous fall—three days after what would be Jas Shaw’s final high school game—when Espinoza confronted another young Latino in a park, exposed the pistol in his waistband and challenged him to declare his gang allegiance, asking, “Where you from?”
As for Jas’s last game, it was a torturous playoff loss to South East High in which Jas and his Romans teammates squandered a late fourth-quarter lead. The defeat ended a strange, magical season for LAHS, the oldest such institution in southern California—a school that today is astoundingly underfunded and teaches largely black and Latino kids; a school whose football program, before Jas arrived, had for years been a doormat for the likes of Dorsey and Crenshaw to walk on.
In the first game of that 2007 season, L.A. High trailed Verdugo Hills 18-0 in the third quarter before Jas scored three touchdowns and a two-point conversion to win. Highlights of the comeback made it onto Fred Roggin’s popular wrap-up show that night on KNBC-TV, the equivalent of a garage rapper cutting a demo and hearing it on Power 106 the same evening.
The Romans went on to finish 6-5. Having only one weapon on offense hurt, but the silver lining was that they never felt out of a game as long as Jas was on the field. “Everybody—parents, kids on the other team—would be hollering, ‘Watch number 4!’ ” Jamiel Sr. recalls. “The next year they were gonna design the whole offense around him.”
That off-season, as Jas’s father gathered game footage to add to the recruiting reel, Jas attended clinics and combines around L.A.
Espinoza, meanwhile, spent the winter “participating in a number of violations of jail protocols, including fighting and possession of illegal homemade weapons,” according to a subsequent court filing.
Jas’s dad knew all about the gangs. He’d spoken with his son about their allure. “Anybody ask you to be in one?” he queried. “Nah. I feel like I got a free pass,” Jas replied.
Says Jamiel Sr., “My whole thing was: This is all too good to be true. I didn’t wanna acknowledge it because I felt like I would jinx it, but inside I was like, Oooh man, this is scary.”
March 2, 2016 was a big day on Jamiel’s Law, the one-hour, one-man podcast Jamiel Sr. hosts each Wednesday at jamielslaw.com. It wasn’t just the eight-year anniversary of Jas’s murder. On this night, Jamiel Sr. was expecting Trump, the volatile and increasingly viable Republican candidate, to call in. They’d met before, at a press event in Beverly Hills. Trump, aware of Jas’s murder, had greeted Jamiel Sr. that day by taking his hand and telling him, “Your son’s death will not be in vain, I promise you.” Now, with some do-it-yourself sound engineering, Jamiel Sr. was bringing Trump’s familiar New York brogue onto his modest podcast.
Donald Trump: Jamiel? I’ve been trying to get to you. How are you? Can you hear me?
Jamiel Shaw Sr.: Oh yeah, I hear you loud and clear.
Trump: Your lines are so busy that I had to get an operator to break through. That shows you have a successful show. . . . The switchboard was packed. That means you can ask for a major increase in whatever they’re paying you, O.K.?
Shaw: Well, yeah, O.K., that’s cool. We have 20 minutes—
Trump: I have time for you. You’re my guy. I just wanna tell your audience that you are an amazing man.
Within hours of being released from jail on a Saturday afternoon in 2008, Pedro Espinoza obtained a .45-caliber handgun—a weapon with more stopping power than a 9mm glock, and whose bullets measure a full two millimeters wider.
Jas spent the hours before his murder at Pasadena City College, participating in a 10-week training program for college prospects. “We were actually on our second 10 weeks,” recalls Jamiel Sr., who makes his living running an exercise equipment business. “The first 10 we got free because they invited him. The second 10, we put down $500 so he could get more training in.”
That Sunday found Espinoza, as well as another male member of 18th Street, riding around L.A. in a white compact car driven by a female friend. Both men were part of a sub-gang of killers within 18th Street known as the Alsace Clique. “They called it the varsity squad,” Jamiel Sr. explains, detailing the tattoos on Espinoza’s face and neck, earned like the patches on Jas’s letterman jacket. “The sheriff’s department told me they were the psychos of the gangbangers.”
Jamiel Sr. explained on a recent episode of his podcast, all too accurately, that when members of 18th Street “get out of jail, you gotta go right back out there and put in work. They don’t want no rehabilitating going on. . . . L.A. County will try to rehabilitate, and 18th Street knows that. . . . So they put work on ‘em.”
After the clinic in Pasadena, Jas met some friends at the Beverly Center mall. “The only reason I [let him go],” Jamiel Sr. recalls, “was because I’d said no to the party the night before. I thought, The boy’s 17, he’s a good kid, he’s been training all day. . . . I told Jas, ‘Be home by 7.’ ”
An L.A. High student later told police that Jas was involved in a verbal confrontation with 18th Street gangsters at a burger joint on Pico Blvd. that evening. His post-mortem toxicology test came back positive for marijuana, for what that’s worth. Today, most stories online about Jas’s death are accompanied by unsubstantiated allegations from strangers in the comments section that Jas was a Rollin’ 20s Blood, that he deserves no sympathy. But none of that matters to Jamiel Sr. Even if Jas did claim the 20s, it wouldn’t dull his dad’s pain.
“I remember 7 o’clock came,” Jamiel Sr. recounts. “At 7:01, I’m calling: ‘Hey man, where are you?’
“Jas said, ‘Oh man, we got the wrong bus, Dad. We’re safe, though. Be there in a minute.’
“He had a track meet that week; we were gonna go get some track spikes that night,” Jamiel Sr. says, looking out onto the same yard he sprinted across nine years ago, out to the sidewalk. “I said, ‘Man I would have come and got you. We had to go to the store anyway.’”
Jamiel’s Law podcast; March 2, 2016
Trump: You’re gonna be proud of me, Jamiel. Just like I’m proud of you.
Shaw: There are people depending on you to get in there, Mr. Trump, because we know you’re going to do what you say.
Trump: We’re gonna do it, Jamiel. Your son will not have died in vain. Your boy was a great boy. Everybody tells me, who knew him, he was like a star.
As the sun set on that March 2, Espinoza and his two carmates were driving toward a friend’s house when they spotted a black male teenager wearing red shoelaces and a red Spider-Man backpack, which in this neighborhood often signified Bloods membership. The two males in the car wondered aloud, “Where’s he from?”
Jas didn’t know it, but he needed to get inside. The irony is that today his father wants all undocumented immigrants to feel that very fear—a desperate need to be indoors—that he wishes his son had nine years ago. “If you’re here illegally, keep your ass in the house,” Jamiel Sr. said on his show one month after Trump’s election victory. “Go back to your country or keep your ass in the house. . . . There’s a new sheriff in town. . . . Don’t ever think illegal immigration is a victimless crime. That’s a damn lie.”
Espinoza drove to the home of a friend, a teen who lived up the street from the Shaws. That friend’s father told Espinoza his son wasn’t home, so Espinoza walked back toward the sidewalk. And there he saw the kid in red again.
Jas was on the phone with his dad.
“Hey, where are you?” Jamiel Sr. asked.
“Right around the corner, old man. Be there in a couple minutes.”
“I remember feeling like, Whew, we made it. . . .”
Then: “All of a sudden—BAH-YOW! BAH-YOW! I remember saying, ‘Damn, that was close.’ You ever been to the gun range? You know how it sounds crispy? I could tell it was, like, right there. I knew.”
Jamiel Sr. pauses, breathes for a few seconds.
“You don’t realize until it happens to you, but your brain stops. You raise your kids until they’re 30, 40, 50 years old. But when it gets to 17 and just stops? Your brain is like, What happened? Where’s that kid we were seeing around here for 17 years?
“All Jas’s friends still come by, and I’m like, ‘Damn, how old are you now?’ ‘I’m 25.’ And I’m like, ‘Man, I’m stuck on 17.’ I’m literally in a time warp. I’m in 2008 forever and everybody’s 17. But, really, the only one who’s 17 is him. It’s like being on a people mover at the airport, but as other people are going forward, you’re not moving.
“I tell people all the time: You don’t never wanna know what I know. . . . People think they can handle it, but it’s not designed to be handled.”
Jas Shaw’s murder rippled from coast to coast—Ice Cube even wrote a song about it called “Why Me?”—but right around the corner from his home it crashed like a 90-foot tsunami. “You know how many lives were ruined on that football team when that boy died?” Jamiel Sr. asks. “The quarterback [was getting] straight As. Now, all of a sudden, he’s bipolar. He’s a security guard. One of the other guys on the team, somebody shot him. He’s dead. Another guy, an all-city linebacker, he didn’t do nothing [with his life]. A lot of guys said, ‘Man, if Jas ain’t made it out of here, screw it. None of us are as good as him.’ ”
It would be irresponsible to attribute these outcomes entirely to Jas’s death. It’s easier to do so in the case of Jas’s younger brother, Thomas, who was eight at the time.
“He was the first person to play varsity at L.A. High in the ninth grade—even Jas didn’t play varsity in the ninth grade. And then he just said, ‘I don’t wanna play no more, man. I’m probably gonna end up dead.’ I said, ‘No you’re not, man.’ That’s when I realized he wasn’t gonna buy into the idea of Do the right thing, stay out of trouble and I’m gonna get rewarded. He was like, ‘You told Jas the same thing. I was right there listening and none of that bleep came true.’
“I’m not raising him anymore. I’m just trying to keep him alive. It ain’t no fun.”
Jamiel Sr.’s only outlet, it seems, is to bombastically demand immigration reform and to support the issue’s champion, the current U.S. president.
“I put up a Trump sign,” he said outside his house last summer. “[Neighbors and relatives asked], ‘Uh, you think that’s a good idea?’ People tell me, ‘Somebody’s gonna kill you! 18th Street [Espinoza’s gang] is gonna get you! Be careful what you’re saying!’ Man, it’s bigger than that. I’m already off-kilter.
“Families are supposed to die in order—it cuts down on all the crying and all the sympathy. But when you”—he makes a tire-screech noise, signifying Jas’s death. “See? Now I’m off-kilter, because I should have been gone already. My father died, then it’s supposed to be me, then Jas, then his little brother, and so on. But Jas is gone. That means I’m out of order.
“We hear all these athletes—LeBron James and Kobe, all of them—talking about Black Lives Matter and all this. . . . Then you hear ‘Illegal alien on his third gun charge shoots dead an American citizen.’ [Espinoza] was just released from the county jail; they let him out on a Saturday night and nobody’s calling ICE?! Come on, man. That’s inept.”
Reforming immigration policy based on murders like Shaw’s has proven difficult, however, because of those murders’ scarcity. As Jason Riley reported in The Wall Street Journal in 2015: “Numerous studies going back more than a century have shown that immigrants—regardless of nationality or legal status—are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes.” Riley further points out that while the U.S.’s illegal immigrant population more than tripled between 1990 and 2013, FBI data showed an overall decline of 48% in violent crime.
Practically every American can empathize with Shaw, but only a few know his rare pain firsthand. James and Elizabeth Steinle know it. In July 2015 they lost their 32-year-old daughter, Kate, to a stray bullet fired in San Francisco by an undocumented felon who had already been deported to his native Mexico five times.
More recently, the families of the victims of a Jamaican gang leader named Marlon Jones feel it. Jones shot 14 people at an L.A. restaurant last fall, killing four. “I love how the left-wing media calls Jones a ‘Jamaican national’ and not an ‘illegal alien fugitive,’” Jamiel Sr. says. “And he didn’t just fire 14 bullets—he fired a lot of bullets and some of them happened to hit 14 people. Why aren’t we talking about this up there with Columbine? . . . Why aren’t we talking about how he [came here illegally] and was allowed to roam the streets?
“You might say, ‘Well, statistically speaking . . . ’” Shaw continues, dismissing research like that cited by the Journal, “but we ain’t talking statistics. One is too many. How many more people need to be dead before it’s a problem? One should be the cutoff point.”
Some would point out that Trump has stood for things more widely deplored than anti-immigration legislation; he’s said things that have been interpreted as sexist and racist. How does Shaw feel about aligning himself with that?
“There’s other stuff [on Trump’s platform] that I like. Some stuff I don’t even know. Some things, I’m just gonna let him ride with it—you know? I’ma trust you on this. It’s like having a sports agent: I’m gonna roll with you on everything else because you’re gonna take care of this.”
After Jas’s final conversation with his dad—“right around the corner, old man”—he called his girlfriend, Chrystale Miles. They didn’t talk long before she heard a strange voice interject: “Where you from?”
Jas did not respond, Miles later told police. One eyewitness, a neighbor, saw a Latino with a shaved head approach Jas on the sidewalk. Jas stepped out of the guy’s way. The Latino spoke to Jas, then shot him in the stomach.
Jas fell at Espinoza’s feet. Espinoza walked halfway around him, in a circle, then shot Jas through his raised left hand, the bullet re-entering the 17-year-old at his left temple and exiting just in front of his right ear.
Espinoza hopped in the car with his friends and drove off, just as Jas’s father arrived on foot. “I remember looking down at him saying, ‘Man, I told you!’” says Jamiel Sr. He growls through clenched teeth, an awful sound. “Fix this! Oh, I told you!”
Sometimes Jamiel Sr. thinks about all of the personal investments he made in Jas over the years—all the practices, the commutes to distant ballfields, the jaunts to the local park to do drills, all the camps and clinics. He regrets none of it, except maybe buying that recruiting package. Not because of the five grand he spent but because of the college coaches who he says “kept calling and calling” after Jas was killed. His latest recruiting film had been posted, and now “everybody wanted to talk to him.”
Shaw remembers a call from one D-I program whose coaches had expected to see Jas at a recent camp. “Aw man, he dead,” he told the recruiter.
“Yeah man, he dead. Somebody killed him a couple weeks ago.”
Prior to Jas’s death, Jamiel Sr. had been a man of left-leaning politics. That continued for a while after the murder, during what Jamiel Sr. calls his “Kumbaya period,” a time when his mourning was closely attended by liberal-leaning L.A. politicians who told him what a tragedy it was, how senseless it was, how Jas was in a better place now. It all wore thin when Jamiel Sr. noticed how deftly they all avoided the immigration issue.
The only highlight reel you’ll find of Jas these days features Jamiel Sr.’s angry voice rapping over his son’s zig-zagging touchdown runs. Shaw is a bit sheepish about the language in the song he wrote, titled “What Would You Do?” But it’s a question worthy of all Americans at this point in the country’s history, when everyone would benefit from an improved understanding of the millions of disparate life journeys that brought the U.S. to this point.
If it happened to you, would you be quiet?
Or would you go out and start a riot?
Would you go out and get a gun?
And murder the motherf------ who murdered your son?
What is your main goal? Jamiel Sr. is asked. What is your end zone?
“I know it might sound crazy, but I really wanna make illegal aliens’ lives miserable. Not, like, physically, with my hands, but with laws. People say, ‘They’re scared that they might get deported.’ Well they should be scared. Can you imagine a .45 in your son’s face, how big that barrel had to look?”
“Number two, I wanna get laws passed that target gangs. A law that says If you’re in the country illegally, then you can’t be in a gang; if you are, you get deported—who could be against that?”
He’s referring specifically here to Jamiel’s Law, an L.A. ordinance that Shaw proposed in 2009 but that failed to get on the ballot for lack of support. “If I had money? Oooh, they’d be in trouble,” he says. “People say, ‘You don’t need money, you just need people.’ Well, you need money. We had to get 76,000 signatures [to get it on the ballot]. The best way to do that is to pay signature gatherers, and it costs $4 per signature. You can imagine what that would cost.”
Shaw speaks based on provable facts or direct observations, and a surprising quantity of what he says is inarguable, no matter which side of America’s ideological divide you fall on. Like when he quotes Stanford political theorist Thomas Sowell, who said, “Immigration laws are the only laws that are discussed in terms of how to help people who break them.”
Says Jamiel Sr.: “I’ve been trying to get to some of these pro athletes to ask them, Why in the hell do y’all only care about black people killed by the police? My son was shot dead in the streets by an illegal alien. Does his life matter? ‘Uh, no. Hands up, don’t shoot.’ You wanna hear about some real hands up, don’t shoot? My son was on his back, with a .45 [bullet] in his stomach already. Hands up. International sign for Don’t shoot. What about that? ‘Uh, well, yeah—we can’t talk about that.’”
Jamiel’s Law podcast; March 2, 2016
Trump: A horrible thing happened to your boy, but because of him I’m totally involved and totally energized. And you watch: He will not have died in vain.
Shaw: You seem like you’re a man of your word. You’re gonna do what you say.
Trump: I’ll get it done, Jamiel, in honor of your son. You watch . . . You said it best: Why wouldn’t they agree to these things? It’s so basic.
Shortly after the sitdown on his front porch last August, Jamiel Sr. stopped returning calls and emails. The only outside perspective on how he was doing came from his podcast, which consists of him talking, uninterrupted, for one hour each Wednesday.
Then, in December, one month and one day after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, Shaw began backtracking on his support of the president-elect. Trump had toned down his Deport them all rhetoric and was vowing, for starters, to “work something out” with the hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who received work permits under the Obama administration.
“I’m not gonna lie, I don’t like what I’m hearing,” Jamiel Sr. told his listeners. “We need some clarification, Mr. Trump. . . . We need to find out what the hell is going on. . . . You gotta stay strong, President Trump, if you’re listening. . . . We are due this. We are owed this.”
In mid-December, L.A. city officials unveiled a $10 million legal assistance fund for residents facing deportation, an obvious challenge to the declared intentions of the incoming president—and a knife in Shaw’s gut. There was no Jamiel’s Law podcast that week. There was only Althea’s voice, briefly announcing to listeners that her brother was “taking a much-needed break.”
The show wouldn’t return for nearly two months. Meanwhile, plenty happened while Jamiel Sr. was away, including Trump’s inauguration and his initial executive order that stepped up immigration enforcement and deportations. Jamiel Sr. appeared on Fox and Friends and said, “I trusted that [Trump] was gonna do something and he came through.”
But two days later, on his first podcast of 2017, Jamiel Sr. didn’t sounds as pleased. Perhaps it was the same ennui that sets in after an athlete wins a championship. He sounded depressed, fireless. He didn’t mention Trump until the hour was half over. “I don’t care about nothing. I don’t care that I met Donald Trump. I don’t owe nobody nothin’. Screw everybody.” None of the things he has done, he said—the campaigning, the organizing, the attempted lawmaking—none of it mattered, because Jas was still dead.
The following week Shaw sounded even more pessimistic. “I’ve got so many enemies now, I don’t even worry about it no more. . . . I’m gonna die with enemies. . . . But in the meantime? I’m gonna make their lives miserable. What else do I got?”
The week after that, he announced that his family had deserted him—even Althea, who he said was in the next room, playing the TV so loud as to interfere with his show. “I had people working with me. Now I’m on my own,” he said.” People say Trump is dividing people . . . there are families fighting, husbands and wives. . . . Man, that is true. . . . I don’t trust nobody. Only person I trust right now is my mother.”
Then, suddenly, on Feb. 28, he was invited to Washington, D.C., to attend President Trump’s first speech before Congress.
One can speculate that it was a last-minute invitation, because Shaw hadn’t mentioned it on his most recent show. He probably wouldn’t have been invited at all had the president heard some of Shaw’s more recent podcasts—but there he was, watching Trump read from a teleprompter, the president striking a blow against his own sincerity by erroneously calling Jas a quarterback. The scene conjured a moment at the end of a three-hour conversation last summer when Shaw, sitting in front of two glasses of untouched, condensation-covered lemonade, answered the question, Are you concerned that Jas has become a political pawn?
This was months before Trump’s post-inaugural stumbles, including his failure to secure funds in his first budget for a long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But it’s hard to imagine Shaw’s reply would have changed. He said: “People ask me, Do you mind being politicized? I’m like, What’s the difference? What’s the other option? It’s that or nothing. Yeah, politicize it! What’s that thing they say? If it feels this good, they’re using you. Well, if it feels this good being used, then go ahead and use me up.”