- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

Again? This was the instantaneous question as word spread of a fatal shooting inside the District’s trouble-plagued Ballou High School yesterday.

It was as if people had just been informed of another truck accident on the Capital Beltway. It was as if the shooting death of a 17-year-old black male inside an urban high school is as incidental and indigenous as hip-hop music. It is not.

“Not again,” may be the better reaction. “Enough,” however, is what we need to scream.

So D.C. interim School Superintendent Elfreda W. Massie stood before the microphones outside Ballou yesterday to issue the clarion call, “We’ve had enough.” But have we? Each city leader offered pained expressions and heartfelt condolences to the family of the latest child victim of the District’s unchecked crime spree. Each city leader promised typical responses. But their predictable solutions to systemic problems sounded awfully similar: “We need the community to come together,” and “We need the city to step up.” Yes, let’s talk, meet and have more community forums and focus groups.

Again and again? Yet, nothing can be said now to save the life of 17-year-old James Richardson, who was shot in a hallway near the cafeteria in Ballou yesterday morning. Fortunately, the other wounded student suffered only a minor leg wound. Three brazen suspects were still at large last evening.

I’m all for increased parental, community and faith-based involvement.

I’m all for increased prevention programs especially those that focus on conflict resolution and provide after-school activities. I’m definitely all for holding public officials more accountable for better public services such as increased police patrols.

So, I have to get behind “frustrated and outraged” School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz on this one: “We’re not policemen. We need more help with security,” she said yesterday. Is it too much to expect to have schoolhouses serve as sanctuaries? No.

As Mrs. Cafritz said in one interview: “We’ve got to keep kids safe so students can learn.”

“It’s hard enough for [students] to be safe in their community. They have to know this building is safe,” Ballou’s Principal Art Bridges was quoted saying in December.

But how to keep them safe? Mind you, 12 private security guards and two Metropolitan Police Department officers are responsible for the security of 1,100 students in a building with 120 doors that cannot be locked from the inside because of fire code regulations. Besides, Ballou students and visitors are screened with metal detectors and X-ray machines and literally frisked before entering the building.

It doesn’t take rocket science or forensics to surmise that students brought their weapons in through unsecured doors, perhaps aided by someone already inside.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I have visited Ballou on numerous occasions and a lot of students are making strides against the odds.

Still, how can schools stand as insulated safe havens in the crime-plagued communities surrounding them? How do you keep guns out of schools located on streets where guns are easily accessible? How do you keep children feeding themselves off criminal behavior outside from bringing their “beefs” inside the classroom or cafeteria?

I can think of a laundry list of culprits causing crime, starting with our pitiful present-day pathos. For the most difficult tasks facing American adults and leaders today is how to teach our children to value life within a culture of violence that devalues life, in a culture that denounces true compassion, in a culture that dehumanizes love, and in a culture that celebrates half-naked and gangster rappin’ entertainers?

If there is “a culture of crime” in the District, as D.C. police Chief Charles H. Ramsey is quick to insist, it exists in part because the city’s criminal justice system from the police precinct to the courthouses to the prisons and the parole offices have failed residents miserably.

Yes, eliminating “a culture of crime” starts when the community gets fed up and fights back. But they, like school officials, cannot fight alone. They need to know the police will protect them when they do.

Mrs. Massie is correct in her assertion that one city agency cannot handle the school violence problem alone. True, but cutting crime starts with the police providing better public safety tactics and strategies. Street cops, willing to comment, will tell you that proper deployment is at issue in their crime-fighting efforts.

Non-emergency flashing lights on D.C. cruisers, I’m sorry, is just plain stupid. No one, least of all the ‘hood rats, is fooled.

Forget the publicity statistics. Criminals are committing more brazen acts in broad daylight in the most unlikely places only because slack or lax law enforcement allows them to believe they can get away with their crimes. The thugs’ attitude is in direct correlation to police action or inaction.

Where there is no law, there is no order.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams needs to issue more than another clarion call for community involvement when he makes his State of the District address tonight. He needs to present a comprehensive plan that includes an all-points police press to tackle the District’s undeclared “crime emergency” on neighborhood streets now spilling into neighborhood schools before parents and students beg the question, “again?”

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