- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2000

Growing up, Antoine Jones missed the two biggest factors that could have kept him out of trouble his father and school.

Now, the 16-year-old is charged with shooting seven persons at the National Zoo last Monday as hundreds attended the 2000 African-American Family Celebration.

Constantly truant from school beginning in at least seventh grade, and fatherless since age 6 when his dad, James Antonio Jones, began a 29-year prison sentence, the Jones youth fits every category that predicts violent crime, experts say.

"Fatherlessness is a greater predictor of violent juvenile crime in any community, more than poverty or the ethnic, cultural makeup," said Aaron Kipnis, president of the Fatherhood Coalition in Santa Barbara, Calif.

"It's the single most predictive factor."

Truant children "look at school and authority as everything they hate," said Robert R. Butterworth, a child psychologist in Los Angeles.

"The fact that he's not going to school that's breaking the law right there is an indicator that ordinary rules don't apply," Mr. Butterworth said.

"They think they're different. Even though everyone else does it, they think normal rules don't apply to them. They're not hooked into society like other kids," he said.

The Jones youth also falls into two other categories that increase his likelihood of committing crimes: being black and the son of a criminal, Mr. Kipnis said.

The Jones youth grew up in the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast, one of the District of Columbia's toughest with a reputation for street-side drug dealing and crime.

He was in trouble inside and outside of school, sources and court documents say.

He rarely attended the several D.C. public schools he was shuffled to after seventh grade, especially this past school year as a 10th grader. D.C. public schools sources said he failed to attend classes at two different high schools during the last school year. He first attended Phelps Vocational School on 24th Street and Benning Road NE in September, then transferred to neighboring Spingarn High School in October.

Then last week, prosecutors said he got into an argument, flashed a gun and opened fire at the zoo entrance as he stood across Connecticut Avenue NW.

The scuffling and arguments preceding the shooting at the zoo were not gang-related, as many first believed, and may have stemmed from rivalries between young men from the Trinidad and Ivy City neighborhoods, a police source told The Washington Times.

A youth without a father in his life suffers from low self-esteem and demands "street respect," said Mr. Kipnis, who himself was incarcerated as a juvenile offender.

And the first commandment of gangs and the streets is "dis me and die," he added.

"[For] young men who are senselessly violent and have extreme reactions to a minor slight … their self-esteem is often so low that they're socialized to act out, and homicide is a more ready option," Mr. Kipnis said.

"If someone disrespects them, their reserves of respect are so low they feel the impulse to destroy the object that is eradicating whatever scrap of self-esteem they have left."

Those who know the Jones youth didn't say he felt he must live up to his father's reputation, but the young man is on his way to continuing that legacy.

The elder Jones was an enforcer for drug kingpin Rayful Edmond III, who ran the city's largest cocaine sales operation near the Trinidad neighborhood. He was convicted in 1989 for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and is incarcerated in a federal prison.

Court records show that the Jones youth is no stranger to criminal activity. At age 13 he was involved in armed robberies and was expelled from school for making death threats, published reports said. But a police source told The Times that he was suspended from school for the incident.

There also are conflicting reports that teen-age youth had been suspended or expelled from Spingarn High School. A school district official said the Jones youth was still on the school's enrollment list, but he was regularly absent from class.

"He wasn't here enough" for any counselors or teachers to know him, a school district official said of the Jones youth's time at Spingarn.

Another school source said, "I heard that boy was getting into trouble when he was in preschool."

Many students at Spingarn appeared to recognize his name, but then said they didn't know anything about him.

Children must attend D.C. public schools until they are 18, said Wilma Bonner, acting assistant superintendent for senior high schools.

Ms. Bonner said officials at Spingarn and Phelps used a number of methods to try to get the Jones youth back in school: They had conferences with his mother, sent attendance deficiency notices home and used automated telephone alerts.

The youth's mother, who Ms. Bonner said was active in the parent club at her son's junior high school, was working with a counselor to find a suitable alternative school program.

Isolated studies throughout the country have indicated that young people who don't go to school often get into trouble. In a study by the University of Maryland, researchers concluded that 51 percent of girls picked up for not attending school tested positive for drug use. A similar study in San Diego indicated that boys not attending school were 67 percent more likely to use drugs.

After a three-week truancy sweep in Van Nuys, Calif., police recorded a 60 percent drop in shoplifting.

"If a person is truant and on the street, that's the education they're getting," Mr. Kipnis said. "They're being educated into the culture of the street."

In his Trinidad neighborhood, Jones spent most of his time between his mother's ground-floor apartment in the 1600 block of Holbrook Street NE and his grandparents' home in the 1200 block of Neal Street NE.

That part of the city has a reputation for street sales of illegal drugs, and young men who appear to be selling drugs hang out at several street corners.

The Jones youth admitted to D.C. Pretrial Services that he had used drugs within the last 30 days. He is to be tried as an adult on a charge of assault with intent to murder while armed and could be sentenced to life in prison on that charge. More charges are expected in a grand jury indictment.

Even as he ran into trouble with the law and skipped school, the Jones youth seemed to be close to his family.

He would walk his 5-year-old brother the 10 blocks to and from school every day to protect him, a police source told The Times.

The Jones youth also played basketball and hung out at the Joseph H. Cole Recreation Center, about a block from his grandfather's house on Morse Street NE.

Because of his father's ties to the Rayful Edmond III organization, even people who work in area community centers did not want to talk about the youth.

"Some people are afraid to talk about him," said a D.C. Parks and Recreation Department employee. "You have to live in this community."

Several people who answered the door at the home of his mother and grandfather refused to talk to reporters or give brief information.

A woman who answered the door at his grandfather's house on Neal Street NE said the Jones youth "was a normal teen-age kid" who "likes to listen to music and play Nintendo."

The woman would not disclose her relationship to the youth.

Besides growing up the Trinidad neighborhood, the youth also regularly visited his aunt and uncle and two cousins who live in the 100 block of Chaplin Street SE, according to neighbors. Court records show that their home as a place where the Jones youth lives.

A man at the house denied knowing the Jones youth and refused to say if he lived there. A neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said the teen-ager visited frequently.

"He was pretty good. It really surprised me [that the Jones youth was accused of the shooting]," the neighbor said. "He would come over there for family functions and to play with his cousins."

The neighbor said he believes peer pressure rather than his heritage was the reason the Jones youth would have carried a gun to the zoo and fired into a crowd of people leaving the facility.

"What your peers think of you is something major in the minds of these teen-agers," the neighbor said.

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