For the world outside the South LA neighborhood of Florence, Ezell Ford is a symbol. The 25-year-old's fatal shooting by two LAPD officers Monday night, mere days after the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, made him into an emblem of police brutality and racial injustice: another sad rallying cry in the movement for reform.
But for Tritobia and Edsell Ford, both 42, Ezell Ford will always be a beloved eldest son. On Friday, at the home where they raised him and his siblings, dressed in funeral black, they bemoaned their child's tragic early death.
"We're so devastated," Edsell Ford, Ezell's father, said. "It's horrible what happened."
"He was snatched away from us," Tritobia Ford, his mother, said while shaking her head. "He was so young. I didn't even get to have grandchildren."
A basketball net stood unused in front of the family home, in the shadow of the 110 Freeway. Tritobia Ford said her son had loved to play basketball since he was a little boy. She described him as kind and "free-spirited."
"He didn't look at life the same way as other people," she said.
Tritobia Ford said her son's distance from others grew as he got older. She doesn't recall anything particularly unusual about his behavior as a young boy, but when he was a teenager, he started to exhibit signs of the bipolar disorder and schizophrenia that run in her family, she said.
"Maybe it was always in him," she said. "But it peaked when he was about 18."
Ezell's friends and neighbors supported this picture with recollections of a sweet boy who became increasingly troubled as he aged. Shirley Benitez, 24, said she has lived two doors down from the Fords since she was 9, and remembers playing with Ezell and his younger brothers constantly when they were kids.
"We used to play in the street together, all of us," she said. "It was so much fun. We were really close. We all went to middle school together, right in the neighborhood."
Benitez said she and Ezell drifted apart after middle school because they attended different high schools. She went to Venice High, and he went to University High in West LA, she said. University High Principal Eric Davidson said Ezell attended the school until 10th grade, but he wasn't sure where he went afterward.
Benitez said she recalled hearing Ezell was having troubles with his mental health in high school, but said she was never clear on exactly what that meant. Ezell continued to greet her warmly whenever they would see each other around the neighborhood, but something seemed different about him, she said.
"He was always so sweet and polite," she said, "but whenever I would see him, he was almost always by himself."
Ashanti Harrison, 31, another friend of Ezell's who lives two blocks away from the family, said he was a popular, normal teenager who loved to dance and play basketball. In more recent years, Harrison said, he had mostly seen Ezell walking around alone.
"He never bothered anybody," Harrison said. "He would walk up and down the street for hours just asking people for cigarettes."
Harrison said Ezell was walking alone the last time he saw him. On Monday evening, Harrison said he was showering in his second-floor apartment on 65th Street when he saw Ezell walking down the street. A police car pulled over, and two male cops who were larger than Ezell got out, Harrison said.
Harrison said Ezell looked frightened and confused. A struggled ensued, and the officers ended up wrestling Ezell to the ground and shooting him three times. He was pronounced dead at the hospital that night.
Four days later, Ezell's parents expressed hope that justice would be served in the case of their son's death. "We just want to see something done," Tritobia Ford said.
A protest over Ezell Ford's death is planned to take place at LAPD headquarters downtown on Sunday at 3 p.m.
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