Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"The Valley of the Shadow of Death" by Kermit Alexander (2015)

 “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” is the story of pro football player Kermit Alexander and his struggle to find justice in the wake of the murder of his mother and nephews in Los Angeles in the late 1980’s. Not just a history of the crime itself, the book delves into the history of gangs in Los Angeles. The history and origins of the Crips and Bloods, along with the story of Tookie Williams, will hold you captive.

But the real meat of this book is in the way the author takes you through each pace of the investigation, explaining what it’s like to be the prime suspect in the case. That came about because it is standard procedure in homicide cases to look at those most closely connected to the victims. In Mr. Alexander’s case it could have been gambling debts that went unpaid; he was, after all, a pro football star. Even in the years before O.J. this was cause enough to suspect him. This has to be one of the hardest aspects of the case; being suspected of something as heinous as matricide.

Although he was cleared of any involvement this standard procedure poisoned his relationship with his family. Some of them actually believed he was responsible for the death of his own mother, something which he has never been able to overcome.

Working the streets “undercover” he provides the clues and names to the police, who seem to be too busy to really look into the killings deeply. His descriptions of this phase of his life are haunting, as he is consumed by his dual mission to find his mother’s killers and clear his own name.

Throughout the book he laments the lack of intact families as one of the chief causes for the many hurdles which still face the average African-American community today. And I agree with him whole heartedly; which is what made the ending of this story so perplexing to me.

After the trials and appeals are done; which took considerable time; Mr. Alexander re-ignites a relationship which began during the trials when he was in the throes of depression and self-loathing. He describes her only as “blonde haired”, never referring to her race at all, leading the reader to believe that she is a white woman.  They then embark on a visit to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake there. The woman becomes enraptured with a young child whose mother cannot afford to keep her family fed; let alone together.

Eventually, Mr. Alexander and his companion “adopt” all of the women’s five children and bring them back to the United States. I had a hard time with this; not the interracial relationship; but the splitting up of this Haitian women’s family in order to make one of their own. They went to the trouble of building a large addition to their home, and then whisked the children away from the biological mother. It seems to me that they could have taken the mother along; after all they did hire a nanny to help with the care of the children. I couldn’t help but think that the mother could’ve taken on that role.

I found it confusing that; in spite of his stated angst at the plight of the African-American family being torn asunder by economics; Mr. Alexander has taken an impoverished Haitian family apart. He imports the children to America, where there are already so many kids without a mother or father, especially in the African-American community. He has created a perfect world for himself, which he deserves; if only as a reward for the hell he has been through. But I can’t help thinking about that mother who had to sell her children to the African-American man with the blonde haired wife.

Still, this is an engrossing book which sheds much light on what it is like to be behind the headlines when you are both the victim and the suspect. I won’t tell you who killed his mother; or why. That’s one of the most engaging parts of this story; the why. And sometimes even “why” doesn’t really cut it….

No comments:

Post a Comment