A San Diego father who lost his son to gang violence nearly two decades ago is continuing his mission to keep local youth from joining gangs.
About 19 years ago, Azim Khamisa’s son, 20-year-old Tariq Khamisa, was gunned down by a 14-year-old gang member in San Diego’s North Park community while working his job delivering pizzas in the area.
This week, the memories of losing his son so suddenly and violently came rushing back to Khamisa when he found out the same gang that killed his son was also allegedly involved in a sex trafficking ring busted by federal authorities in North Park.
At a news conference on Wednesday, federal officials announced they had arrested two dozen San Diego gang members as part of a year-long investigation into a cross-country sex trafficking ring that spans 46 cities across 23 states and involves dozens of female victims, many of them underage.
At least 60 victims are from San Diego, 11 of whom are minors.
Officials said these gang members – from the “BMS,” or Black Mob and Skanless groups – would allegedly act as pimps, luring the women into a life of prostitution by using rap videos posted on social media that promised the women a glamorous, lavish lifestyle.
Once they became prostitutes, the suspect would allegedly “brand” their recruits with tattoos of gang symbols, bar codes or even a pimp’s name, and exchange the women among themselves as needed.
For Khamisa, the news hits especially close to home.
“I was shocked [to hear this] – beyond shocked. I’m still shocked,” he told NBC 7.
Khamisa knows all too well what gangs are capable of. He said the gang member who killed his son was part of a small group that has clearly grown over time.
“It was a very petty gang, if anything,” he recalled. “It was 30 to 35 members and they were not organized.”
The foundation – which he created nine months after his son’s murder – aims to promote peace and prevent youth violence through education, mentoring and community service programs.
“We need to look at prevention. We need to look to make sure gangs are not effective in recruiting,” said Khamisa.
Working beside Khamisa in his ongoing mission is an unexpected partner: the grandfather of the 14-year-old gang member who killed Khamisa’s son.
Khamisa said their collaboration came out of a mutual mission to bring forth change.
“It came from that one choice – to forgive,” said Khamisa.
And, after all these years, the foundation’s goal remains clear and simple.
“Make sure other kids in our community don’t end up like my son, or in prison like his grandson,” said Khamisa. “That’s what we can do.”
“My son did not die in vain. Something good actually came as a result of this tragic event,” he added.
Today, the Tariq Khamisa Foundation spreads its message and prevention programs across four schools in San Diego County.
A study shows their work has had a big impact, as school disciplinary actions dropped from 83 to 26 percent, suspensions from 81 to 14 percent and violent behavior 46 to 7 percent. Recently, the San Diego Unified School District voted to use the program in all of its schools.