‘Children killing children is not a mark of a civil society’

Jul 23, 2020 | Uncategorized

By Mary-Justine Lanyon

Imagine getting a call from a homicide detective that your only son has been murdered.

Azim Khamisa does not have to imagine that nightmare – he has been living it since January 1995. His son, Tariq, was a 20-year-old student at San Diego State and was out delivering pizzas when he was accosted by 14-year-old Tony Hicks.

Tony pointed a gun at Tariq, demanding he hand over the pizza he held in his hand. Tariq refused. He got in his car but, before he could drive away, Tony shot and killed him.

“When I got the call from homicide,” Khamisa said, “I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a case of mistaken identity. Tariq was a good kid, a good student. He wouldn’t get into any kind of trouble that would lead to his murder.”

The father called the son’s home number – but he didn’t answer. Instead, his fiancée, Jennifer, answered, barely able to speak as she was sobbing so fiercely.

“That’s when it hit,” Khamisa said. “I lost strength in both legs and collapsed to the floor. I don’t have the words to describe how excruciatingly painful it was.”

The pain was so intense, Khamisa told the members of the Crestline-based Rotary E-Club of World Peace, he had his first out-of-body experience. “I believe I went out of my body and into the loving arms of God,” he said. “It was like a nuclear bomb exploded in my heart.

“God sent me back into my body with the wisdom that there are victims at both ends of the gun.”

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Khamisa asked, “How did we create a society where children kill children? How is it a 14-year-old is too young to drive or vote but not too young to carry a weapon.” The statistics are horrific, he noted: “We lose a child every 1-1/2 to two hours.

“Children killing children is not a mark of a civil society.”

So, what did Khamisa do? Did he brood about the tragedy, building up hate and resentment?

Just nine months after his son was killed, Khamisa founded the Tariq Khamisa Foundation with an initial mission of stopping kids from killing kids by breaking the cycle of youth violence.

“Tariq had a lot of living left to do,” Khamisa said. “And I think about the 6-year-olds killed at Sandy Hook. It wets my eyes when I think they had so much living to do.”

Through the foundation, Khamisa developed the Safe School model, which is based on six guiding principles:
• Violence is real and hurts everyone.
• Actions have consequences.
• Youth can make good and nonviolent
• Youth can work toward forgiveness
as opposed to seeking revenge.
• Everyone deserves to be loved and
treated well.
• From conflict, love and unity are possible.

“We started with a simple premise,” Khamisa said. “Violence is a learned behavior. If you accept that, then nonviolence can also be a learned behavior. But you have to teach it.”

But Khamisa didn’t stop there. He asked the district attorney to introduce him to Tony’s grandfather, who was his guardian. “I told him I was not there to seek retribution or revenge,” Khamisa said. “I was there in the spirit of compassion and forgiveness. I told him we had both lost a son.”

Khamisa told the grandfather, Ples Felix, about the foundation and asked him to join him. “I told him I couldn’t do it by myself, that it behooved us to work together. He was very quick to accept my forgiveness and said he had been praying they would have the chance to meet some day.”

The Safe School model includes an assembly at which the father and grandfather address the students. “We are together in the spirit of brotherhood and forgiveness. We are different races, come from different religions and met under dire circumstances but we were able to become like brothers,” Khamisa said.

The Safe School program is offered to students in fifth through tenth grade. Tony joined a gang in sixth grade.

A part of the program is the creation of a Peace Club, a leadership club through which students learn how to resolve conflict without violence.

There is a mentoring program; teachers will identify students on a slippery slope like Tony was. And there is a parenting program that teaches restorative practices.

“The results have been phenomenal,” Khamisa said. “The kids learn about empathy, compassion and learn to forgive. And suspensions and expulsions have been cut by 70 percent. If a student is suspended or expelled, chances are he will end up in a gang, in crime, in prison.” The recidivism rate for juveniles, he noted, is 84 percent.


It took Khamisa five years to “come eyeball to eyeball” with Tony. He asked the grandfather to go with him to the prison and introduce him to Tony.
“Tony was the last person to see my son alive,” Khamisa said. “We talked for an hour and a half. At one point, our eyes locked. What impressed me was he was remorseful, articulate, very well mannered. I looked in his eyes, trying to see a murderer, but couldn’t. I saw his humanity.”

Khamisa told Tony that, when he came out of prison, he would have a job for him at the foundation. “My stride leaving the prison was a lot bouncier than when I walked in,” Khamisa said. “A big albatross had been lifted from my shoulders. I knew I had completed my journey of forgiveness.”

The next day, Felix called Khamisa to say that, as he was saying goodbye to Tony at the prison, the grandson told him, “That is a very special man. I thought I wouldn’t make it in prison but he gave me hope.”

After that, the two wrote letters at least once a month. Tony got his GED and started taking college classes and plumbing courses.

“I became the father figure in his life,” Khamisa said.

Fast forward to November 2018 when Tony had his first parole hearing. Both Khamisa and his daughter, Tasreen, the executive director of the foundation, were there to advocate for Tony’s release. The commissioner said that was something he had never seen happen before.

After the seven-hour hearing, the board granted Tony parole; that order was signed by the governor in April 2019, when he was released from prison. He spent six months in a halfway house and now lives back with his grandfather.

Tony’s goal is to become a plumber. A local San Diego plumbing company hired him as an apprentice and will offer him a full-time job after he finishes his journeyman work. Tony also volunteers with the foundation and has spoken at a school assembly with Khamisa and his grandfather.

Khamisa ended his presentation with what he calls his peace formula: Sustained goodwill creates friendship. Sustained friendship creates trust. Sustained trust creates empathy. Sustained empathy creates compassion. Sustained compassion creates peace.

“Peace is possible,” Khamisa said. “How do I know? Because I am at peace.”
For more information, visit www.azimkhamisa.com and www.tkf.org.



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