- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

Inside the red brick walls and column-lined halls of Thurgood Marshall Academy, students from the crime-ridden neighborhoods of Southeast are instilled with a sense of pride, purpose and security. But once they step outside the towering building on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, that solace is shattered.

“I know I have to watch my back after school,” said Shaniqua Love, a 10th-grader at the academy. “I don’t get a lot of time to talk with my friends because I have to get home before something happens.”

The public charter school, which moved into a new home near the Anacostia Metro station earlier this year, has found itself plagued by a problem that is prevalent throughout much of Ward 8: neighborhood turf wars.

Earlier this year, about 50 youths from the Barry Farms neighborhood lined a walkway from the academy to the Metro rail and bus stations, looking for several students that live at Robinson Place.

One day, Barry Farms residents threw brick-sized rocks toward the building as students and teachers exited the academy. Students were jumped, beaten and robbed during a span of about three weeks as they headed to the station to make their way home.

“They decide to beat up on anybody,” said Donnell, a 15-year-old freshman at Marshall, who, for fear of retribution, asked that his last name not be used. “They beef with this ‘hood and get people from their ‘hood to try to come down here.”

The problems at the school and in other Southeast neighborhoods involve such communities as Barry Farms, Condon Terrace, Parkland Place and Robinson Place that have sparred as long as some of the students’ lifetimes.

In some cases, the reasons for the rivalries are long forgotten. In others, random acts of violence have sparked even more violent retaliation: Students say Barry Farms targeted Robinson Place residents because one of their own was fatally shot near the Robinson neighborhood.

James Richardson, a 17-year-old football star at Ballou Senior High School, was fatally shot last year as a result of the Barry Farms-Condon Terrace feud, said James’ friend Marquise, a senior at Thurgood Marshall who also asked that his last name not be used for this story.

James “stopped going to school and said he was scared,” said Marquise, who grew up with James in Condon Terrace. “That day he went to school, they set him up.”

The academy’s problem has caught the attention of city officials, who say it is not unique to Thurgood Marshall and is a consequence of students from different high schools congregating at the Anacostia Metro stop after school.

“The school is at a location where you have a lot of different young people from different locations coming to that area,” said Gerald M. Wilson, assistant police chief of the Metropolitan Police Department. Also, “all public schools get out at 3:15, and Thurgood Marshall gets out at 4:30. If there was going to be a confrontation, then the [public school] kids are out there already.”

Chief Wilson said Metro and city transportation officials last week arranged for three buses to transport students directly from nearby Anacostia High School to alleviate crowds at the Metro stop.

He also said teachers at the school are allowed to ride the buses for free to serve as monitors. Police have stationed a security officer at Thurgood Marshall every day at 3:30 p.m., and officers have canvassed the area with fliers stating police are investigating the assaults.

The measures have helped decrease the number of assaults in recent weeks, Chief Wilson said.

“We can’t say it’s fixed, but we can say we’ve put a lot of positive steps forward in terms of trying to address it,” he said.

Edward Reiskin, the city’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said the District also is assessing placing police officers at more charter schools, which, unlike public schools, are required to provide their own in-house security staff.

“The results will show some schools are in need of additional resources,” Mr. Reiskin said. “If we identify the need for dozens more officers, we’ll have to figure out how to resource that.”

Meanwhile, Thurgood Marshall officials say the solution to the incidents lies within the academy’s walls, where students from neighborhoods across Ward 8 attend school and, for the most part, get along.

Joshua Kern, the school’s co-founder and president, said academy students share a sense of purpose and family — not to mention the fact that students are expelled for fighting.

“There’s no easy answer,” he said. But “until we get those things to exist out in the community, we can’t solve the problem.”

Mr. Kern also said the academy is considering starting a program that would allow students from one neighborhood to tutor students from another. In addition, the students are planning a community fun day that will feature a video-game tournament and speakers, in hopes that the event will help stop the violent feuds in the area.

“There’s no meaning to it,” Shaniqua said. “I pray every night that this stuff will go away.”

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