Violence against our children must stop!

Violence against our children must stop!

By Nisa Islam Muhammad
Staff Writer

Violence against our children must stop!

Uptick in killings of Black youth leaves many seeking justice

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Across the country, Black youth are being shot and killed for little or no reason. Boys and young men are disproportionately the victims, but girls and young women are not exempt from these tragedies. Karon Blake, 13, was shot in D.C. by a homeowner for allegedly tampering with cars. Five teens were shot at a Baltimore shopping center, a 16-year-old died. Families are in pain and communities are outraged. A 15-year-old girl was recently shot in Jackson, Mississippi. What must be done to save Black youth, keep them safe, and guide them to a better future?

“Community members must examine where they live,” Andrew Muhammad, executive director of We Our Us, told The Final Call.  “If I live in a community, like Baltimore’s McCullough Homes, it has about 300 residents and is a housing project.  If that’s my community, I know it has drugs, guns, prostitution, crime, violence, and poverty. But if I’m in that community as a conscious man or woman that cares about my community and my people, the first thing I have to do is make sure my house is in order,” said Mr. Muhammad.

Sad african american boy covering his face and sitting at window in living room
Photo: Envato.com

“My household becomes an example for my community,” he continued. “They have something they can see, something they can aspire to. They can see another reality for their family. The second thing is for me to organize the responsible people in that community.”

D.C.’s Brookland community is suffering from the death of 13-year-old Karon Blake. The unarmed teen was shot by a man who came out of his home before 4:00 a.m. after hearing noises. The unidentified Black man, a D.C. government employee, claimed to have seen Karon and possibly others breaking into vehicles.

The police explained that after the man left his home to investigate, “there was an interaction between a juvenile male and the male resident” and the man fired his legally registered firearm, striking Karon. The shooter also has a concealed-carry license. There is no evidence Karon was armed.

“It’s a horrible situation,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a news conference. “We have a 13 year old that died, and we don’t have all of the facts. And the people who are responsible for gathering the facts and making charging decisions are doing it just as fast as possible.”

She explained that the man who shot Karon is on administrative leave, which is standard whenever a city employee is accused or criminally charged.

The fact that the police are withholding the shooter’s name has added insult to injury to this community. More than 200 people recently filled Turkey Thicket Recreation Center for a community town hall about the shooting organized by Ward 5 Councilmember Zachary Parker. 

“No car or material possession is worth a life—under any circumstances,” Mr. Parker said in a statement. “I join Ward 5 residents in calling on the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to hold accountable the individual who took Karon’s life.”

Residents demanded details of the shooting at the town hall. Their anger erupted often and drowned out Assistant Police Chief Morgan Kane who came to answer questions. Karon’s grandfather, Sean Long, 55, told Chief Kane and the crowd that if the victim had been White, the shooter would have been arrested by now. 

Flowers secured
Flowers secured to a pole as a memorial to Karon Blake, 13, on the corner of Quincy Street NE and Michigan Avenue NE in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C. on Jan. 10. The note reads, “Karon we will love and miss you dearly.” Karon Blake was shot and killed on the 1000 block of Quincy Street NE early morning Jan. 7. / Photo Credit: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

“I didn’t know you could get a gun permit and shoot somebody for messing with a car,” Mr. Long said. He pleaded with the audience to stop the shootings and violence.

“Give us justice. Give us any justice,” he said. “Do your job, let the jury deal with him. Because if they don’t, you are all my witnesses, people are going to be at war on the street.”

The audience seemed dissatisfied with everything Assistant Chief Kane said.  The more she spoke the louder they got. Several speakers said in the absence of revealing the name of the shooter, there was nothing that could be said to pacify the audience. “MPD (Metropolitan Police Department) has failed us again,” said Kwasi Seitu, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 8.

This death has organized the community to seek justice for Karon. 

“Why were cars more valuable than a life,” wondered retired Brookland resident Marion Harrison. She told The Final Call, “Other youth can do simple, crazy things and just get a punishment. They can steal cars and get a warning, get drunk, act out and the police will drive them home to their family. Why are Black youth dealt with so harshly?  Black teens are seen as predators even by our own people.  Why do people feel they can shoot first and ask questions later?

“Things need to change and change fast,” she continued. “Black lives must matter more than property, regardless of what they are alleged to be doing. Diminish the unreasonable fear of Black youth. Gun owners must stop being judge and jury.”

The fatal shooting of Karon Blake, a Brookland Middle School student occurred Jan. 7 right on the heels of protests in Columbus, Ohio, in early January about the fatal shooting of another 13-year-old Black boy, Sinzae Reed. Sinzae was shot and killed in October 2022 by a White man, who has yet to be charged with a crime.

The increase in firearm-related fatalities among U.S. youth has taken a disproportionate toll in the Black community, which accounted for 47 percent of gun deaths among children and teens in 2020 despite representing 15 percent of that age group overall, according to new analysis, reported Reuters in an article published in December 2022. Reuters referenced a report from JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) about the disturbing reality facing the Black community.

Assistant Police Chief Morgan Kane
Assistant Police Chief Morgan Kane, Ward 5 Councilmember Zachary Parker and Karon Blake’s grandfather, Sean Long, at a recent town hall community meeting. / Photo Credit: Nisa Islam Muhammad

From 2013 to 2020, firearm-related deaths rose by 108.3 percent among Black youth and by 47.8 percent for young Whites, with the largest increase occurring between 2019 and 2020, the report found, according to Reuters.

In the U.S., generations of young Black males, ages 15 to 24 years, are prematurely dying from homicide and suicide, noted a 2020 Journal of Black Studies published by SAGE.

Ages 15 to 24 years are the intersecting developmental stages of adolescence and young adulthood when premature death should not be expected, the study points out. “The trauma and ceased procreation prospects stemming from Black males’ premature deaths represent a public health crisis in America. Heightened public health approaches are needed to bring attention to a young racial-gender group that is dying five to six decades prior to their life expectancy,” the study notes. “The mass suicide-homicide killings, premature deaths, and death disparities among young Black males, ages 15 to 24, in the United States is not a paranoid propaganda. It is undeniably a disturbing public health crisis that requires an urgent national response to reverse and ultimately eradicate the premature death of young Black males.”

Fall-of-America-3D-1-edited-300x277
Fall of America

The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam, pleaded with the Black community to make a change for the better or suffer the consequences in His powerful book, “The Fall of America.”

“We have come to the brink of extinction,” He wrote on page 2. “We must now and here make an agonizing reappraisal of our way of life if we care anything for ourselves, our lives, our people, our race, the future of our properties, wives and children,” wrote the Messenger.

“Justice is a common thing. Yet, it is elusive. Men have sought its meaning and substance since time began. Plato shrugged that justice was nothing more than the wish of the strongest members of society. Jesus equated justice with brotherhood. Shakespeare saw it as a matter of mercy. I am here to tell you that justice is the eventual working out of the will of God as indicated in the fundamental principles of truth. Justice is the antithesis of wrong, the weapon God will use to bring judgment upon the world, the purpose and consummation of His coming.”

He continued: “Although we are the chosen of God, when it comes to justice, the so-called American Negroes are the most deprived people on the planet earth. Had justice prevailed, there would be no need for a day of judgment to come today, to plead, not to the unjust judges of the world, but to the just judge to give the Black man of America justice. That just judge is Allah, God. We have come to the end of the days of the unjust judges. Even though it may offend some, you must know the truth of it all.”

In “A Torchlight for America,” the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, the National Representative of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, clearly details what can happen “without a new state of mind in America.”

“Anarchy may await America due to the daily injustices suffered by the people,” he wrote on page 41. “There really can be no peace without justice. There can be no justice without truth. And there can be no truth, unless someone rises up to tell you the truth.

“The Nation of Islam can be of assistance. We desire to reason with the political and economic leadership, with the hope of formulating a cooperative effort for the benefit of us all. We want a new relationship in which we can work together for the good of the whole.”

Rashida R. Muhammad and Final Call staff contributed to this report.

Amazing Regeneration

Billy

BY AFRAMNEWS
By: Billy “Hollywood” Groves

Billy

As I observe, daily, how we as the country of America are handling all the negative activities around the world and within our nation these days; I can only describe the approach we are taking as an “Amazing Regeneration” toward our battle against evil.

Having lived on this planet and in America for a long time, I’m very proud of American and how, as a nation, it has fought and won many battles against the evil forces and sins that have attacked and plagued us. I truly believe and know that God created America as a God-fearing nation with an assignment to combat evil and expand Godly behavior over the planet.  I know that God has strengthened his people both males and females to accomplish this work.

It has been an “Amazing Regeneration”, by true Americans of all colors and backgrounds, working together and winning.  They are genuinely faithful and true team members for God.

Although I often hear “Fake News” people and other haters telling their lies about violence, deadly gun behavior, that we are seeing and hearing about across our nation, mostly with the intend of improving their financial status and political positions. We know the real fact is, most of the weapons that are being used in these violent and deadly attacks are often related to the evil people who speak so strongly against these attacks.

This is where the “Amazing Regeneration” of Americans has helped and continues to work against those “Devils” who are promoting gun violence.

Also, lest we forget, violence is a threat to our democracy, our voting rights, our living rights and the education and development of our youth.  However, we take comfort in knowing that we do have enough brave, Godly people on this planet to maintain the safety of America and the world. God Bless America!

Victims of violence remembered during ‘Never Forget Chicago’ event

500 family members
500 family members
At least 500 family members came together at the Daley Center in downtown Chicago to remember the more than 2,000 victims of violence. Photos: Haroon Rajaee

By Shawntell Muhammad,
Contributing Writer

CHICAGO—Maxwell Emcays, founder of Never Forget Chicago, brought at least 500 families together at the Daley Center located in downtown Chicago, to remember and honor more than 2,000 victims of violence. All 500 families received sweatshirts with their loved ones’ names and pictures on the front of the shirts at the Dec. 3 event.

A brightly lit tree with personalized snowflakes for each victim will stand in front of the Daley Center until January 1. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, every life is different and unique and should be cherished and respected, according to organizers.

“So many families fall through the cracks and are forgotten, and continue to mourn and hurt in silence. Through remembrance, there is unity, healing, and most importantly, change,” Emcays said.

At Final Call press time, the total number of murders within the city of Chicago for the year 2022 was reported at 643. Further data compilation for all crimes in Chicago can be viewed at chicagopolice.org under the statistics and data tab.

A supporter holds a banner during an honorable event in Chicago for victims of violence.

Sheena Stone, who is grieving the loss of her then 25-year-old son Anthony Jackson, who was killed on September 19, 2021, stated, “This is a sisterhood, a family bond, that no one really wants to be a part of. So, it’s always good to be around people who share the same experience.

Anything I can do to remember him, although he is going to always be in my heart, his spirit dwells with me every single day, I am going to do that. I am going to show support and love to other mothers and families that are going through the same thing that I’m going through.”

Others were thankful for an event that brought them all together.

Supporters were thankful for an event that brought them together.

“My son, Robert Gonzales was murdered on August 31, 2013. I am really grateful for this event. It’s been really hard, especially around the holidays, and not everyone remembers our deceased loved ones. My son was only 21 years old,” Delores Gonzales said.

Rickia Fountain, only nine years old, lost her brother Demetrius Hardy who was just 15 at the time of his death on April 8, 2020. “He was an important person in my life, he would always help me with my homework,” she said. “I miss him a lot.”

Learn more about Never Forget Chicago at: maxwell.emcays.com/neverforgetchi

Shawntell Muhammad can be contacted at organicallybalanced@gmail.com.

Violence in Haiti leaves the disabled in further harm, no state support

A person with reduced mobility
A person with reduced mobility
A person with reduced mobility on a wheelchair during a demonstration against insecurity in Cap-Haitien on July 30, 2022. Photo by Oldjy François for The Haitian Times

The Haitian Times 
www.haitiantimes.com 
By Juhakenson Blaise

PORT-AU-PRINCE — In June 2021, a house for people living with disabilities in Delmas 2 went up in flames during a clash between police and the G9 Famille & Allies gang. Residents of the group home accused the police of setting the fire after officers blamed the disabled for “tolerating” the bandits around the camp.

In moments, scores of amputees, the blind, quadriplegics, deaf-mutes and others living with disabilities were left homeless.

“The insecurity took everything away from us, we only saved our lives,” a survivor told reporters, soon after taking refuge in a Pétion-Ville communal school. “They came to shoot us. It’s the state that isn’t doing its job, it’s not us disabled people who have to pay [the price].”

Interfaith Faith Council of Alameda County Laments Gun Violence in Oakland

op-ed interfaith faith council of alameda county laments gun violence in oakland

NNPA Newswire/BlackPressUSA
Oakland Post
By Rev. Jim Hopkins, ICAC Co-Founding Board Member and Rev. Ken Chambers, ICAC Founding President

op-ed interfaith faith council of alameda county laments gun violence in oakland
Interfaith faith council of alameda county laments gun violence in oakland

The headline in the September 20, 2022, East Bay Times read, “‘Everybody was devastated’: Four people killed, five others wounded in string of violence across Oakland.” The article began, “A torrent of violence during an 18-hour stretch Monday evening and Tuesday left four people dead and five other people wounded by gunfire across Oakland, including three men who had just finished praying at a local mosque and a teen girl who was left gravely injured.”

The Interfaith Council lifts its voice in lament over these deaths and this violence. We cry out “How long O Lord, how long, must our city live in the deadly grip of guns and gun violence? How long will the fear of our loved ones being hit by a bullet cause parents to worry, grandparents to be anxious and children to live in terror?’

With all the shocked and grieving members or our community, and with the devastated members of the Oakland Islamic Center, we call on those who committed these crimes to turn themselves in, we call on our leaders to redouble their efforts to bring violence to an end, we call on those who glorify the use of weapons to reconsider their stance and we call on those of us who can exert some influence on those most likely to shoot to plead with them to put down their guns.

We long for the day when the faith communities of Oakland are united in peace. Today, we acknowledge that we are united in grief even while we are united in our commitment to bring about a better day.  To this end we will pray, organize, and labor.

The post OP-ED: Interfaith Faith Council of Alameda County Laments Gun Violence in Oakland first appeared on Post News GroupThis article originally appeared in Post News Group.

OUR VOICES: The Chains That Bind After Juneteenth

Juneteenth

By Dr. John E. Warren

As so many of us completed celebrating our second national holiday, this time in honor of the delayed announcement that all slaves had been freed more than two years before the Juneteenth announcement, the question remains as to whether we all got the message?

All one has to do is look at the voter turnout during these mid-term primaries in all places other than Georgia.The Black vote, needed now more than ever, has begun to fall away. The chains and bondage of slavery have been replaced with chains of apathy and selfishness. These traits are evidenced in the detachment that many of us reflect in our lack of interest in issues that we don’t see affecting us directly. Too many of our minds are still chained to drugs, alcohol and violence on ourselves, often exceeding anything that racist and white supremists inflict on us with gun violence. As a matter of fact, we kill more of ourselves than mass shooters with assault weapons.

The solution to removing these chains is a reflection and awareness that they exist and then a conscious decision to focus on the inclusion of concern for others. We must remember that we, as Black people, have come this far from Juneteenth as part of a collective effort. No one person has made the difference alone.

The good news is that there is a new wave as evidenced by those who have marched in protest against the ongoing murder of Black men by law enforcement entities. But we must grow our numbers. Using the hard fought right to vote is one major step toward removing the chains; stopping the violence against ourselves represents another major step forward.

Bottom line, let’s add to our celebrations a commitment to building upon the sacrifices of those who came before us. Let’s remove the chains and bondage with the personal involvement mentioned here.

Dr. John E. Warren is publisher of The San Diego Voice and Viewpoint.

FAITHFUL UTTERANCES: Less Blame: More Accountability and Action

Violence

Violence is an underlying issue in our country and just as much as guns are a problem, there is an attitude that exists prior to the action. Violence starts as a thought then is accompanied by emotion. It shows up beyond gun violence.

We speak violence by the way we talk to others. We see violence by the shows we watch that dehumanize and devalue others.

We feel violence because many of us have experienced it at the hands of those we loved, and/or thought would protect us. Violence has become a part of our existence.

Whether it is reality television shows filled with verbal abuse, belittling, and fighting or video games that desensitize the value of life with non-stop killings and blood throughout their entirety—we have a constant diet of doom, gloom, and death.

There is such hatred and disrespect that is condoned on Twitter and other forms of social media. Instead of addressing the root causes and the real issues that plague us as a society, we find time to blame others and seek fault instead of looking in the mirror to determine our role in this culture and how we will seek to create change around us.

It becomes too easy to become a keyboard activist typing words of condemnation and pointing fingers at others instead of searching within and partnering with others to create strategies that can make a positive impact.

Yes, our politicians should be held accountable, but it begins with our involvement in our communities, in our schools, and with our children instead of allowing everything else to raise them.

Yes, there must be additional regulation on guns in our country but isn’t it time that we begin to ask ourselves why is it that in the last two shootings that occurred in Buffalo and Uvalde were committed by young men that were 18 years of age?

The overwhelming majority of mass shootings have been by males. Are we asking ourselves why and what can be done?

The roots of hatred and jealousy began in the first earthly family’s genealogy. The first recorded murder in the Bible involved Abel and Cain, sons of Adam and Eve. Abel kept the animals and Cain was responsible for farming the land.

Abel brought his best offering and was rewarded by God for doing so. Instead of trying to do something different and following God’s expectations, Cain’s anger was misplaced and directed at this brother. God said to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?

But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 9) Cain refused to take responsibility for his actions, blamed his brother, and allowed his emotions to overwhelm him.

He decided to take his brother’s life. He is an example of what happens when our emotions go unchecked, it becomes a breeding ground for jealousy, hatred, envy, lies, murder, and other ills that can ruin relationships, homes, and our society.

Our view of others as less than while others should be entitled to more is an issue. We are all created in God’s image. It’s an issue of how we see others but it’s also an issue of how we see ourselves.

It’s problematic that these young terrorists felt so low about themselves and their lives that they were willing to take the lives of others.

These issues didn’t start the day of the mass shootings. Something started years ago that wasn’t checked, that wasn’t dealt with and festered until it became out of control.

There’s a lot that must be done. It’s not a one and done solution but until we are willing to unwrap the many layers of this situation, we are only putting a band-aid on a rapidly growing cancer.

Prayer is important. Gun reform is important. Teaching respect is important. Voting for those who are not easily compromised but are willing to do what’s right for all is important.

Addressing racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and classism is important. Mental health accessibility is important. Protection from violence is important. But know that blame alone will not solve it.

Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew is the President of Soulstice Consultancy, LLC. To learn more about her, visit drfroswabooker.com.

OUR VOICES: Either They do Something or WE Will

WE

By Pamela E. Ice

The twenty-seventh U.S. school shooting of 2022 occurred 24 May 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. It is too much to bear. I am tired of politicians talking about praying for the families of the victims. It is high time we – they – DO something.

I don’t want to hear about mental health, candle-light vigils, the second amendment, or anything else except commonsense gun laws. President Biden says he’s tired of these massacres, well so are we all. And I can’t imagine how the people feel in every city in which these massacres have occurred.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott was disingenuous when he talked about gun laws in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York not reducing gun violence. Sure, there is gun violence in those cities, but not mass murders in elementary and high schools, churches, and Walmart, for goodness’ sake. Since 2009, there have been over four mass murders in Texas. I’d say there’s something bad wrong here that the Texas legislature can do something about. But I’m not counting on them.

Since 2009, the legislature has done nothing but loosen restrictions on guns. Rather than improving the “wild West” ethos in our state, we now have open carry laws, permitless carry, and gun buyers are not required to be trained on firearm use. People carry long guns openly. And who needs a semi- or fully automatic machine gun? They only are used for killing people.

It is a travesty that Governor Abbott, Senator Cruz, and others stood before us the day after the massacre at Robb Elementary School and talked about improving mental health care when Abbott and the legislature refuse to expand Medicaid. Texas has more uninsured folks than just about any state. But I digress.

The Texas Governor and legislature need to ACT. Immediately. Abbott can call a special session and show Texans and the nation that he is serious about reducing gun violence in our schools, churches, department stores and other public places. If the governor and the legislature do not act, and soon, I say we – you and I – take our discontent to the streets as many did in 2020 over the murder of George Floyd. This time, it’s for 19 dead children and two dead teachers that we protest.

Yes, WE must do something, too.

Pamela E. Ice is an educator and essayist. The Fisk University alum hails from Detroit, MI.

OUR VOICES: ‘A Morally Inclement Climate’

Monument of Martin Luther King Jr.
Monument of Martin Luther King Jr.
Monument of Martin Luther King Jr.

By Marian Wright Edelman

April 4 was the 54th anniversary of the assassination of our nation’s prophet of nonviolence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On the same day we received new warnings from international scientists that our world remains headed towards an environmental climate catastrophe, this date was a sad reminder that before his death, Dr. King presciently warned us about a metaphorical climate crisis that also threatened us all.

Shortly after President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, Dr. King wrote that it was time for our nation to do some soul-searching, and while the question “Who killed President Kennedy?” was important, answering the question “What killed President Kennedy?” was even more critical.

Dr. King said he believed “our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate”:

“It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence.

“It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder.

“It is the same climate that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and six innocent Negro children in Birmingham, Alabama.”

Dr. King also noted that the undercurrents of hatred and violence that made up this morally inclement climate were fueled by our cultural embrace of guns: “By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pas-times.”

The same winds of hatred, storms of violence, and easy access to and glorification of guns he believed killed President Kennedy would soon kill Dr. King, too. Decades later, we are still being ravaged by the same storms.

On April 3, six people were killed and 12 others injured in a shooting in downtown Sacramento, California, one of the worst mass shootings in the city’s history.

Afterward, President Biden released a statement :

“Today, America once again mourns for another community devastated by gun violence. … Families forever changed. Survivors left to heal wounds both visible and invisible. … We know these lives were not the only lives impacted by gun violence last night.

“And we equally mourn for those victims and families who do not make national headlines. But we must do more than mourn; we must act.”

Will we? President Biden went on to list steps Congress could take to curb gun violence right now: “Ban ghost guns. Require background checks for all gun sales. Ban assault weapons and high-ca-pacity magazines.

Repeal gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.”

We know what could help. But we also know how many members of Congress remain resistant to doing anything at all.

Meanwhile, gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children and teens ages 0-19 and is taking a growing number of lives — a fact that is sometimes lost in the middle of the pandemic. Violence still saturates our communities and our culture. We are raising another generation in a morally inclement climate. We must do more than mourn.

We must put actions behind our words and thoughts and prayers.

In his eulogy at Dr. King’s funeral, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays said:

“Here was a man who believed with all of his might that the pursuit of violence at any time is ethically and morally wrong; that God and the moral weight of the universe are against it ; that violence is self-defeating; and that only love and forgiveness can break the vicious circle of revenge. He believed that nonviolence would prove effective in the abolition of injustice in politics, in economics, in education, and in race relations. He was convinced, also, that people could not be moved to abolish voluntarily the inhumanity of man to man by mere persuasion and pleading, but that they could be moved to do so by dramatizing the evil through massive nonviolent resistance. … He believed that the nonviolent approach to solving social problems would ultimately prove to be redemptive.”

Our world is still in desperate need of leaders who share this belief today.

Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Stopping the gun violence at East Dallas’ Woodrow Wilson HS will require more than increased patrols

DISD police Officer Uzziel Avila dealt

By Sharon Grigsby

DISD police Officer Uzziel Avila dealt
Among the incidents DISD police Officer Uzziel Avila dealt with March 29, 2022, as he patrolled during the Woodrow Wilson High School-J.L. Long Middle School dismissal period was to break up a “slap boxing” gathering at the basketball court in Willis Winters Park. The basketball court is just across the street from the high school campus.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

When the five or six shots were fired during dismissal at Woodrow Wilson High School last month, Principal Mike Moran was fewer than 20 feet away, although in the ensuing melee, he never saw the shooter’s face.

Many students were even closer to the young gunman in this terrifying moment amid 1,300 teens leaving the Old East Dallas campus March 22.

Frantic kids scrambled for hiding spots, parents sat helpless in their cars and the perpetrator escaped before the first police cars arrived.

Moran had suspected trouble when he saw an unusually large group of teens congregating just beyond the school’s football field. As he headed that direction, students yelled that a fight was breaking out.

That’s when the shooting began — the weapon apparently aimed skyward.

“That’s the closest I’ve ever been to gunfire and at first I thought it was fireworks, because that’s a problem we’ve had outside before,” Moran recalled. “Then I smelled the gunpowder.”

Typical of the smartphone world we live in, students recorded video and photos of the scene. After the staff at Woodrow and adjacent J.L. Long Middle School repeatedly reviewed those images, word came that the gunman was not a student at either campus.

Dallas ISD police have since tied the incident to gang activity and continue to look for the young shooter, according to DISD executive director Richard Kastl.

DISD police Officer Uzziel Avila
DISD police Officer Uzziel Avila headed toward a group of students “slap boxing” one another at the Willis Winters Park basketball court across the street from Woodrow Wilson High School on March 29, 2022.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

Even before the March shooting, Woodrow and Long administrators were on high alert because of previous incidents outside the schools.

Dallas police responded around dismissal time Feb. 1 to reports of a fight in Willis Winters Park, just across the street from Woodrow. The young participants fled, and officers confiscated one gun in the adjacent parking lot.

Another late afternoon altercation occurred on the edge of the park Feb. 10, this one involving J.L. Long students and at least one parent. As eight police cars rolled up, most of the kids managed to get away.

The violence leaves Woodrow with the same questions plaguing schools nationally: How to keep students safe and how to help the teens who are causing the trouble. While security is the immediate concern, genuine solutions will require doing both.

DISD trustee Dustin Marshall, whose district includes Woodrow and Long, told me that what’s happened these last weeks is worse than anything he’s previously seen in the district.

“Anytime there’s gun violence around schools, let alone at dismissal time when there’s hundreds of kids coming and going, it’s terribly troubling and a serious situation we have to act on,” Marshall said.

But the district also can’t lose sight of the kids who are showing signs of violence, he said. “Those are also students that we need to try to help.”

As students returned to campuses this school year, districts across the country have reported increased violence — bullying, fights, gang activities and drug-related incidents.

DISD police officer walked behind students heading home
A DISD police officer walked behind students heading home to adjacent neighborhoods from J.L. Long Middle School as they passed in front of Woodrow Wilson High School during dismissal March 29, 2022.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

Experts had forecast this scenario based on the COVID-19-induced trauma of remote learning, loss of friends and financial and health crises within families. In December, the U.S. surgeon general issued a rare public health advisory about the mental health crisis facing young people.

For students already stressed and on edge, every new issue compounds the last and can lead to a spiral into aggressive behavior.

Moran’s sense is that Woodrow students and parents are split down the middle in their reaction to the incidents — half of them worried sick about the recent violence and half voicing few concerns. My conversations with adults and teens indicated the same.

Most everyone mentions bullying as the No. 1 problem — older kids picking on younger ones.

Another point repeatedly raised is the wide age range and huge campus population: Woodrow and Long are home to more than 3,000 students, ranging from grades six to 12.

Many parents also question whether Dallas ISD police and Dallas PD are partnering — or just pointing fingers at each other — on security at Willis Winters Park, a 16-acre community greenspace that is also the site of DISD sporting events and practices.

Under its interlocal park agreement with Dallas, DISD is on the hook during student-involved events. But that doesn’t mean it provides 24-7 protection.

Students walked past a DISD police
Students walked past a DISD police cruiser during the school’s dismissal at Woodrow Wilson High School on March 29, 2022.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

If law enforcement groups weren’t on the same page before the shooting, they now seem to be. I live nearby, and my spot checks indicate a consistent police presence in the past two weeks.

Moran told me that some of those involved in the fights are teens who have quit school. Others are students who should be, say, a sophomore or junior, but because of academic problems, remain in lower grades. That includes high school-age students still in middle school.

“These are students who are really struggling to stay on track or to get back on track,” Moran said.

Moran and Kastl said these students increasingly become unconnected to their school and sometimes wind up in gang and drug activity. A student feels like he doesn’t belong, “so you join another group and unfortunately it’s an unhealthy group and that becomes your association,” Moran said.

Those students, in turn, try to entice their peers to join them — and harass those who won’t.

In response, DISD and DPD officers now are on site between 3 and 6 p.m. on school days. Additional Woodrow staffers are outside the building during dismissal.

Having the extra officers is huge, Moran said, not just from a safety standpoint but because that provides administrators time to walk around and build relationships with teens and parents.

“That will help them feel comfortable telling us stuff we need to know,” he said.

The PTA is compiling a fact sheet that will help everyone in the community know to whom they should report various types of problems.

Cameras are in place in the park, and more are planned for the campus. Moran also wants a study of traffic flow, particularly on Glasgow Drive where pickup and drop-off congestion makes spotting problems difficult.

Woodrow Wilson High School
More than 1,300 students exit Woodrow Wilson High School at the end of each school day. DISD and DPD patrols were in place from 3 to 6 p.m. after a March 22 shooting on school property.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

Moran also is putting more thought into how to help those kids who — for whatever reason they feel they can’t be part of a school community — have formed their own social circle that gathers at the park, the nearby Santa Fe Trail or on campus sidewalks.

Those of us who have long followed the goings on at Woodrow know that while student diversity is one of its greatest assets, the socioeconomic gaps among its students can create challenges for the kids on the low end of that spectrum.

Moran said that in most urban schools, “90% of the students look like you. You have that fundamental similarity.”

But at Woodrow, “we have some of the most elite academic students, athletes and arts performers … and we have others who are not at that level who we are also committed to supporting.”

That’s why he and his team are giving post-pandemic thought to what it feels like for each student to walk into the current Woodrow environment.

Traditional thinking would be to get disenfranchised kids on a team or signed up for a club. Instead, Moran knows instruction time — those long hours from 9 a.m. to 4:35 p.m.— has to be rethought to ensure the school engages all students.

He wants to hold summer school at Woodrow to help teens catch up so they feel comfortable returning to class. Also on his “to-do” list is to better partner with parents who may also feel that they don’t belong.

Just before we talked, Moran had been at North Garland High School, a campus with demographics similar to Woodrow’s, in order to look for anything he might be missing.

No one principal or campus can solve a problem this complicated — one that schools nationwide are grappling with. But Woodrow has the resources and community support to lead the way.

As DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa noted in a recent Q&A with Woodrow parents worried about the next time a kid with a gun is on school property:

“We can’t police ourselves out of this. These kids are volatile, they’re proving it, and somehow we’ve got to deal with the core.”

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