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198 Thomas Jefferson High School, in East New York, was the scene oftwo episodes of school violence during the 1991â1992 school year.On November 25, 1991, Jason Bentley shot a teacher, Robert Ander- son, and shot and killed a fellow student, Daryl Sharpe. On February 26, 1992, Khalil Sumpter shot and killed Tyrone Sinkler and Ian Moore. Al- though the first shooting had been a shock to the school, the neighbor- hood, and the city, the second shooting was something more than that. Following on the heels of the first episode and occurring on a day when the mayor was scheduled to speak at the school, the incident took on enormous weight. In brief, the intrusion of violence into the school was read as the breaching of one of the last sanctuaries in a city wracked by violence. Whoever was to blameâand many candidates were proposedâ it was surely a terrible and intolerable state of affairs that had come to pass. That the shootings had a logic of their own, albeit one related to the surrounding violence, was lost in the apocalyptic rhetoric that gripped the press and drove the discourse about the events. Lost in the hubbub was the remarkable work of a few calm people who understood the big picture and kept trying to make it better. Equally lost was the pain of the youthânot just the shooters or their victims, but a whole generation of young peopleâwho were coming to maturity at that peculiar moment in the history of East New York. In the following pages, we tackle three areas of investigation. First, we describe the two episodes of fatal violence and their aftermath. Sec- 7 What Did Ian Tell God? School Violence in East New York Mindy Thompson Fullilove, Gina Arias, Moises Nunez, Ericka Phillips, Peter McFarlane, Rodrick Wallace, and Robert E. Fullilove III
199WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? ond, we explore the context in which those events occurred. Third, given that this paper is written 10 years after the events, we take a retrospective look at the meaning of the events. A NOTE ON METHOD This project employed situation analysis,1 a theoretically derived qualitative method, to conceptualize data collection and analysis. For these purposes, a âsituationâ is defined as a complex interpersonal epi- sode. Situation analysis is used to specify the setting, the actors, their roles, the rules governing their behavior, key scripts they follow, and cultural assumptions governing action in order to arrive at a âdefinition of the situation.â A central theorem governing situation studies is the Thomas theorem, which states, âIf men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.â2 Accordingly, perception is accorded great weight in understanding the processes that drive human behavior. Triangulation is a key method in situation studies. The mathematical concept of triangulation refers to using trigonometry to locate a third point using bearings from two known points, a fixed distance apart. As applied in situation studies, triangulation refers to the collection of different kinds of data, from different points of view, in order to arrive at the âdefinition of the situation.â Typically, such exercises are guided by theory: in this case, the work is informed by George Engelâs biopsychosocial model,3 which postulates that illnesses and disorders occur within nested systems, hierar- chically ordered such that higher-level systems control lower-level sys- tems. The systems we investigated, from highest to lowest, are: the city, the neighborhood, the small group, the family, and the individual. For purposes of this study, a multicultural team, including three young people literate in âhip hopâ culture, was organized. It was as- sumedâcorrectly as it turned outâthat young people would be essential to the effort of comprehending the culture of the place and the time. The team collected information from multiple sources representing divergent points of view. Box 7-1 is a chronology of the events described in this case study. We spoke formally and informally with many people who were aware of the incidents and/or life in East New York in the period of interest. Formal interviews were conducted with 55 people, including Khalil Sumpter, Jason Bentley, and Joseph Fernandez, then Chancellor of New York City Schools. We were heartened by the helpful- ness of many members of the East New York community, as well as by the high level of cooperation we received from all of those involved with the legal system: judges, attorneys, and members of the police force. A few people who held key positions of responsibility at the time of these events refused to speak with us, including: David Dinkins, then mayor;
200 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE BOX 7-1 Chronology of Key Events in the East New York School Shootings 4/90 Khalil Sumpter and Tyrone Sinkler arrested for robbery; Sumpter got probation; Sinkler got one year detention. This led to ongoing âbeef.â 10/91 Jermaine Bentley and Jesse Thompson had a dispute over alleged âdisrespectâ shown to Thompsonâs sister. This led to âbeef.â 11/25/91 Jason Bentley, intent on protecting brother Jermaine from Thomp- Monday son, fired three shots, missing Thompson but killing Daryl Sharpe and wounding Robert Anderson. 11/29/91 Daryl Sharpeâs funeral Friday 2/92 Sumpter perceived that Sinkler was repeatedly threatening him and his family. 2/25/92 Sinkler stepped on Sumpterâs shoeâthey had an angry confronta- Tuesday tion. Later, Sinkler allegedly fired shots at Sumpter. 2/26/92 Sumpter fired two shots in second floor hallway at Thomas Jefferson Wednesday High School, killing Sinkler and Ian Moore. Mayor David Dinkins was on his way to the school at the time of the shootings. Later that day Marlon Smith, friend of the deceased young men, shot himself. 2/28/92 Marlon Smith died at Brookdale Hospital, Brooklyn. Friday 3/1/92 Mayor Dinkins announced $28 million school safety initiative. Sunday 3/2/92 Funeral for Tyrone Sinkler. Monday 3/3/92 Funeral for Ian Moore. Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood asked, Tuesday âWhat is Ian going to tell God about us?â 3/4/92 Funeral for Marlon Smith. Wednesday 8/3/92 Bentley sentenced to 3 to 9 years in prison for manslaughter. Monday 9/7/93 Sumpter sentenced to 6 2/3 to 20 years in prison for manslaughter. Tuesday
201WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? Bruce Irushalmi, then the head of school security; and Carol Beck, then the principal of Thomas Jefferson High School. Lena Medley, principal of Thomas Jefferson High School at the time of this study, also refused to participate. We also did not interview any members of the victimsâ fami- lies as we were unable to obtain contact information for them. In addition to interviews, a number of outstanding books have been written on the East New York community. Luck was with us: journalist- teacher Greg Donaldsonâs book, The Ville: Kids and Cops in Urban America,4 based on his experiences in Brownsville and East New York in the 1991â 1992 period, included detailed reporting on the neighborhood of East New York, Thomas Jefferson High School, as well as the two episodes of school violence described here. Other books used to develop this case study include: Upon This Rock,5 Getting Paid,6 and Will My Name Be Shouted Out?7 We collected news articles from The New York Times, New York Newsday, Time, Newsweek, as well as major newspapers from other U.S. cities. We obtained a copy of the record of Khalil Sumpterâs trial; Jason Bentleyâs case did not go to trial, so no comparable record was available. Statistics on crime, school performance, and housing projects were col- lected from the appropriate city agencies. Analysis of the qualitative data was conducted using Atlas.ti,8 a soft- ware package developed for the analysis of qualitative data. Detailed notes of all formal interviews were entered into Atlas.ti and coded for key themes that emerged from the data. Conceptual mapping was used to develop the relationships of the themes to each other. Ecological analysis was conducted using Infoshare, a geographical information system pro- gram for New York City that includes census and health data organized by zip code. A draft of the case study was written and refined based on two pro- cesses. First, we assessed the accuracy of the manuscript in light of the raw data, including interview notes, articles, statistical information, and other literature, looking particularly for any data that might refute state- ments made in the text. Second, we sent copies of the draft to interviewees who had agreed to review and comment on it, including both Jason Bentley and Khalil Sumpter. The final version incorporated new informa- tion and comments from readers. The authors are entirely responsible for the content of the final document. This case study has several limitations. First, the brief period of field- work limited our ability to understand the complexity of the East New York community. Second, the absence of some key actors and victimsâ families from our dataset created a bias toward the âtoldâ story. Third, the passage of time has obscured some parts of the story but made others clearer. To some extent, we are telling the story as it is known now, as
202 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE opposed to how it happened then. We were aware of all of these issues throughout the data collection and analysis and attempted to balance the effects when possible. The institutional review boards of Columbia University, the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and the National Research Council ap- proved this study. THE EVENTS âLetâs Finish It Nowâ Jason Bentley grew up in East New York, a bright child protected by loving parents.9 He did well in school through the first six grades. His life, however, was deeply affected by living in a neighborhood that was engulfed in violent drug wars. Jason saw violence in the neighborhood from a very young age. He was, as well, surrounded by a crime-domi- nated street world that had a powerful allure for boys. An event in eighth grade stood out in his mind: he had the opportunity to go to a Catholic high school, but he decided not to take the scholarship test. This was, as he saw it, a decision to follow his brother on what he called in 2001 âthe wrong pathâ: the path of the streets. At about the same age, he started to carry a gun, thinking that he needed it for protection. In October of Jasonâs freshman year at Thomas Jefferson High School, a small dispute began. As he recalled, a friend had tried to âtalk to a girl.â When she said she wasnât interested, the boy called her a âbitch.â She reported this to her brother, incorrectly naming Jasonâs older brother, Jermaine, as the person who had âdisrespectedâ her. This led to âbeefââ a word used in East New York to refer to interpersonal disputesâbe- tween Jermaine and the girlâs brother, Jesse Thompson. The beef esca- lated over the ensuing month. Jermaine was not particularly competent by the standards of the streets of East New York. Jason, who was not only loyal but also protective, was brought into the beef on his brotherâs side. Jason, who had been cutting class a great deal, remembered going to school on November 25, 1991, with the intention of going to class and attending to school work.10 His brother Jermaineâs midmorning call for help changed that plan. Jermaine needed his brotherâs aid to confront Jesse Thompson in the hallway on the third floor of the school. At first the two were fighting, and others were interceding to break it up. Just as the combatants were pulled apart, Jason thought he heard someone say, âLetâs finish it now.â Jason, watching Thompson reach for his book bag, thought that Thompson was planning to get out a gun and shoot his brother and him. Jason pulled out his gun and fired off two shots. âI did what I had to do,â he told us.11 One shot hit a fellow student, Daryl Sharpe, who was
203WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? nearby in the hallway.12 Another hit Robert Anderson, a teacher who had stepped out of his classroom to investigate a noise that sounded like firecrackers.13 Jason Bentley ran from the scene but was quickly appre- hended by the police. Daryl Sharpe was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead a few hours later.14 Robert Anderson was also taken to a hospital and treated for the wound from which he would eventually recover.15 At Thomas Jefferson High School, Principal Carol Beck called a spe- cial assembly of the students and announced what had happened. Stu- dents were shocked and dismayed. School was dismissed early. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, offers of help came in from community organizers, religious leaders, and the political and edu- cational leadership of the city. Grief counseling and increased security were immediately instituted. A grief room at the school provided a site for ongoing discussion of the events of November 25. Mourning had a prominent place in the life of the school, antedating this event. A large number of Jefferson students had died due to violence in the commu- nityâbetween 30 and 75 in the preceding five years, the number varying in different reports16âand Principal Beck had wanted a place for young people to talk about the traumatic events that were occurring. In the grief counseling room, Jermaine Henderson, 17, spoke of the moments after the shooting. â[Daryl] kept saying, âGet me up.â The more he talked, he kept losing his voice. He pointed toward his chest. I unbut- toned his collar. There was a hole in his neck. . . . If he had stepped the other way, that could have been me in the newspaper today.â17 Hen- derson himself carried a bullet in his head and another in his shoulder from random street violence. One report noted that 50 percent of Jefferson students had wounds from violent injury.18 In our fieldwork 10 years later, people on the street spontaneously lifted their shirts to show us the marks left by violence in the early 1990s.19 Sharpeâs funeral was held on Friday, November 29, at Messiah Bap- tist Church in Brooklyn. It was reported in The New York Times that Reverend Elijah Pope offered comfort to the mourners, who included some officials from the Board of Education.20 He then commented that many city agencies were missing: âDo we have anyone here from the Mayorâs office? Do we have anyone from the Governorâs office? Anyone from the Police Department? From Lee Brownâs office?â None of those major city agencies was represented. The minister interpreted this as a sign of disrespect and lack of concern. Representatives of various agen- cies offered excuses to the press. A newspaper report noted that a woman, who said she was Sharpeâs English teacher, read from an essay he had written:
204 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE I have many visions of my life. I sometimes wish it could always be a good life. I, too, wish to be rich and successful. But when I look beyond the material things and at the world the way it is, I say to myself, âWhy am I so selfish? I love feeling good about myself, but I feel so much better when I do a good deed.â21 A second assembly, in memory of Daryl Sharpe, was held on Decem- ber 9, 1991. At that assembly, senior Shawn Cameron was reported to remark, âIt could have been anybody on the floor, but it was one of my closest friends. This crime could have been prevented. If the city would have listened to our cry for help, the gun that the person possesses should have never entered the school.â22 Members of the clergy spoke, as did Chancellor Joseph Fernandez and president of the Board of Education, Carl McCall. The appearance of rap star Doug E. Fresh introduced a note of pandemonium, as girlsâ squeals filled the auditorium and undermined the solemnity of the event.23 Jason and his family received little attention in the press, except for an article in The New York Times.24 That story described Jasonâs parents, Rudolph and Sally, as hard-working people who lived in an âoasis of neatly tended private homes with red and white aluminum awnings.â They were members of St. Michaelâs Catholic Church. Reverend Brendan P. Buckley was quoted as saying, âIf I knew Jason came from a family that wasnât a support structure like his is, then I would say, âAh.â But thatâs not the case. What is the lesson here? I donât know. I would hope that the pain itself would be part of the process of learning. We must pray for an end to the violence.â Buckleyâs question was echoed by many. The incident, though shock- ing and curious, quickly slid into obscurity. The Day the Mayor . . . Like Jason Bentley, Khalil Sumpter grew up in the violent atmosphere of East New York.25 Like Jason, Khalil was bright and did well in school, falling off at approximately the same age. Donaldson described Khalilâs behavior at Thomas Jefferson High School, noting, âHis records show that he is a very smart kid who has decided that academic achievement is counterproductive to his goal of gaining and holding props.â26 Instead, he was described as playing the role of a class clown. In addition to his ambivalence about schoolwork, Khalil had emotional problems, probably beginning with his parentsâ separation, which occurred when he was 5. More recently, the stabbing of a friend had affected him deeply. Finally, Khalil, like other youths in East New York, lived cheek-by-jowl with vio-
205WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? lence: as one example, he lived around the corner from the home of Yusef Hawkins, the young black man whose death at the hands of an angry white man had tormented New York City in 1989.27 That winter, Khalil was constantly worried by a long simmering feud with Tyrone Sinkler. The two boys were arrested for a robbery in 1990. Khalil got off, but Tyrone had to spend a year in youth detention. Tyrone believed that Khalil had âratted him outâ to the police. His âbeefâ with Khalil escalated that school year: he threatened Khalil, and, according to Khalil and his family, called his home and threatened his parents, as well. Against this backdrop of chronic tension, two events on February 25th appeared to have been the immediate catalysts for the shooting. The young men had an angry encounter at school during which Tyrone stepped on Khalilâs shoe, and, later that day, according to Khalil, Tyrone fired some shots at him. Tyrone Sinkler was much bigger than Khalil, and ferocious whereas Khalil was not. Khalil feared for his life, and he feared for the safety of his family. As he explained his situation, âYou can put it off, but sooner or later you have to play your cards.â Supplied with a gun by one of his friends, Khalil slipped into the school through a side door.28 He heard that Tyrone and his friend, Ian Moore, were âlooking for you,â an East New York euphemism for âsearch with intent to harm.â Khalil ran into them on the second floor of the school. Fearing that they intended to shoot him, he pulled his gun and shot Tyrone in the head and Ian in the chest. A bystander was quoted in the newspapers as saying, âHe was aiming at both, he hit both, he killed both.â29 Like Jason, Khalil fled but was quickly arrested. An eyewitness, whom we shall call Bill, described the scene to us. As he walked in, he saw Ian and Tyrone with some other guys.30 He remem- bered going up the staircase and seeing Khalil with his friend Dupree. He greeted them and turned to talk to a young woman, who instantly pointed out, âOoh, there go Ian and Tyrone, ooh, there go Khalil. They about to get into it.â Bill thought the three were going to scuffle. He thought he heard Ian or Tyrone say, âYo, whaz upâ to Khalil. The next thing he knew, Khalil had pulled a gun out of his jacket. As soon as he saw the gun, Bill grabbed the back of his head, started ducking, and ran to his coachâs office for help. The coach was the first adult on the scene. Sec- onds later, a security guard arrived to secure the crime scene. âI was hysterical because I was that close,â Bill remembered. Despite the inten- sity of the moment, he pointed out that he did not dwell on it. There were so many murders; these were in many ways indistinguishable from the others. âBack then,â he explained, âpeople [murdered each other] over a beef. It just wasnât nothing.â
206 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE The drama of the day was intensified by the fact that David Dinkins, then mayor of New York City, was on his way to the school. A height- ened level of security was in place, and several security guards and police officers were within yards of the site of the killings. In all, 25 security personnel and police officers were on the school grounds.31 The associa- tion of the murders and the mayor was burned into peopleâs minds. In the course of our interviews and conversations, dozens of people, when asked if they remembered the events, began their comments by noting that the mayor was on his way to the school when it happened. That the day had meaning for people was underscored by the comments of one expatriate New Yorker who commented, âOf course I remember that day. Thatâs the day I decided to leave New York. Not because of those mur- ders, but because of another murder near my sonâs school which went unnoticed because everyone was so preoccupied by what had happened with Mayor Dinkins.â32 The mayor was briefed about the murders by Inspector Patrick Carroll, who was then the commander of the 75th Precinct. On his arrival at the school, Dinkins joined Principal Beck for a school assembly. He urged students to choose nonviolence as a way of life. Newsday reported that he told students, âIf you know that somebodyâs got a weapon, you make sure that you pass that information on. You might think that thatâs being a snitch. Well, you consider the alternatives. Weâve got two young people lying dead today and it might not have happened had it not been for that gun.â33 The horrors of the day did not end with the Sumpter shootings. That evening, Marlon Smith, a friend of the two young men who had been killed, shot himself. He died two days later at Brookdale Hospital.34 Marlon was eulogized on March 4, one day after Ian, and two days after Tyrone Sinkler.35 A Thomas Jefferson teacher shared with us that there were actually five funerals that week for Jefferson students. In addition to Ian, Tyrone, and Marlon, he recalled that two others had died in unre- lated events.36 The funeral of Ian Moore, held at St. Paul Community Baptist Church, seems to have received the most attention of the five.37 By contrast with the obsequies of Daryl Sharpe, a host of luminaries joined the 1,000 mourn- ers gathered at the church. At the service, a poem written by Ian Moore was read: What I fear began when my grandmother died Obviously, it was the fear of death Death is something I just canât handle When she died, it was so unbelievable I fear death because I donât know What will happen when I go
207WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? It is something I canât face When I die, will I be thought about? Will my name be shouted out? Death will come at anytime No matter how far youâre up the ladder.38 Mayor Dinkinsâs comments emphasized nonviolence. The mayor said, âIan Moore is done with the trouble of the world, gone home to God.â39 Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood, senior minister at St. Paul, remembered that he bristled at that thought.40 In his remarks, Reverend Youngblood pointed out that Ianâs death was not unique. âThe tragedy is that what used to be unusual is now usual.â41 He explored the roots of the current state of affairs, and raised the issue of adult responsibility. I heard the mayor say something that shook me. He said that Ian has gone to be with God. Thatâs frightening. Thatâs frightening because if Ian has gone to be with God, whatâs he going to tell God about us when he gets there? If God has entrusted our children to us and we are his babysitters what are these young children gonna report about us when they stand before God?42 In pointing out that the âunusual is now usual,â Reverend Young- blood was describing the rigors of life in East New York. Before proceed- ing to investigate the aftermath of the shootings, it is essential to sketch some of the key features of that troubled neighborhood. East New York âBack in the Dayâ Three features stand out as defining East New York for purposes of this case study. First, it was internally fractured, with clusters of massive housing projects forming an archipelago of mutually antagonistic resi- dences amidst acres of burned and abandoned housing. Second, it was flooded with guns and drugs. Third, it was isolated from the rest of New York. The fracturing of East New York occurred in the late 1960s, as a result of redlining and disinvestment by public and private organizations.43 The area quickly burned down. At its nadir, East New York had 250 acres of vacant land. Much of what burned were private houses and apartment buildings. What remained was the public housing. As depicted in the map (Figure 7-1), 10,549 apartments were built in 11 massive blocks, scat- tered throughout the East New York-Brownsville area (see Table 7-1). These housing units were always separated in space, but the massive destruction of housing meant that they became separated by dead space, most starkly in the area next to Thomas Jefferson High School, which was universally referred to as the âdead zone.â44
208 1. P SA 2. T ho m as J ef fe rs on H ig h Sc ho ol 3. 6 66 D um on t A ve nu e 4. U ni ty H ou se s 5. V an D yk e Ho us es 6. Z ai ds ' su pe rm ar ke t 7. P ub lic L ib ra ry 8. Br ow ns vil le C om m un ity Ba pt ist C hu rc h 9. Br ow ns vil le R ec re at io n Ce nt er 10 . B ro ok da le H os pi ta l 11 . B et sy H ea d Pa rk 12 . T ild en H ou se s 13 . B ro wn sv ille H ou se s 14 . L an gs to n Hu gh es H ou se s 15 . H ow ar d H ou se s 16 . F io re nt in o Pl az a 17 . C yp re ss H us es 18 . P in k Ho us es 19 . L in de n Ho us es FI G U R E 7 -1 M ap o f th e E as t N ew Y or k se ct io n of N ew Y or k C it y.
209WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? Drugs and guns, a feature of community life since the beginning of the decline in the 1960s, took on new proportions with the entry of crack into the community in the mid-1980s. By 1993, East New York led the city in the number of homicides. Arrests related to drugs and weapons pos- sessions were strikingly high. The battle among drug gangs for sales territory terrorized the residents, inspiring a culture of violence that crip- pled civic life and distorted child development. All of these problems were aggravated by the communityâs isolation. When Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood was called to serve as minister of St. Paul, one of his friends told him, âYou are being sent to one of Godâs Alcatrazes.â45 This image of a brutal island prison captures a piece of the isolation that characterized East New York. It is a neighborhood away from the major expressways. It lacked cultural, recreational, or commer- cial facilities that might tempt outsiders to visit. It was far from the center of either New York or Brooklyn. There was no reason for the average New Yorker to ever see East New York. It was equally possible for an East New Yorker to never leave the neighborhood. People who worked with the youth of East New York repeatedly commented on their surprise that the youth never left the area.46 Conversely, because there was no employment in East New York, parents had to leave for work. This had many consequences for the community, among them that the mothers, who tended to be the organizers in comparable poor communities, were unable to be involved in local issues because of their long commutes.47 The isolation meant that rescue was delayed or nonexistent. The school shootings, by contrast with many area problems, focused a spotlight on TABLE 7-1 Housing Projects in the East New York-Brownsville Areaa Development Buildings Apartments Population Completed Unity Plazaa 5 482 1,310 9/30/73 Unity Plazab 3 187 476 11/30/73 Van Dyke I 22 1,601 4,330 5/31/55 Van Dyke II 1 112 126 4/30/64 Tilden 8 998 2,850 6/30/61 Brownsville 27 1,319 3,762 4/16/48 Langston Hughes 3 508 1,357 6/30/68 Howard 10 814 1,978 12/31/55 Cypress Hills 15 1,442 3,526 5/31/55 Pink Houses 22 1,500 4,011 9/30/59 Linden 19 1,586 4,023 6/30/58 aSites 4, 5A, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 27. bSites 17, 24, 25A. SOURCE: New York Housing Authority (2001).
210 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE the area and brought people and resources theretofore missing. Some of that attention is described in the next sections. IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE SHOOTINGS Assessing Violence in New York City Schools The shootings at Thomas Jefferson High School were of interest to public health professionals, who had begun to conceptualize violence as a health problem. At the time, homicide was the leading cause of death among New York City youth 15â19 years old, and the second leading cause of death in that age group nationally.48 Obviously, the increase in violence among youth undermined well-being and diminished life ex- pectancy. In March 1992, the New York City Department of Health, un- der the leadership of Margaret Hamburg, asked the U.S. Centers for Dis- ease Control (CDC) to assess violence in New York City high schools. Richard Lowery, of the CDC, spent a month in New York City conducting the study. He developed and field-tested a survey instrument that was administered by school officials. He remembered that school officials were clearly shocked by the violence at Thomas Jefferson High School. His study did not focus on that school, however, because the school offi- cials were interested in data representative of the whole school system, rather than an anecdotal report on one incident.49 The 1,399 students surveyed were from a representative sample of high schools stratified by presence or absence of a metal detector. Loweryâs questionnaire asked them about weapon carrying, beliefs about weapons, and threats in the 1991â1992 school year. Threats of physical harm were reported by 36.1 percent of the students, while 24.5 percent had been in- volved in a fight. More than one in five (21 percent) reported carrying a gun, knife, or club. Students who had been in fights and those who carried weapons were more likely than their more peaceful counterparts to believe that these weapons were (1) effective ways to manage difficult situations and (2) methods endorsed by their families. The editorial note that accom- panied the report concluded, âThis survey of NYC public high school stu- dents suggests that violent behaviors reflect the personal attitudes of stu- dents and the attitudes students attribute to their families.â50 The study also found that students were less likely to bring weapons to school if they attended a school with a metal detector. This was inter- preted as providing support for the use of metal detectors on the basis that they might reduce, although they did not eliminate, weapon carrying in school. The report suggested a variety of other interventions that might be undertaken, including encouraging parents and community groups to teach youth nonviolent conflict resolution. In Loweryâs view, the physi-
211WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? cal security offered by metal detectors was only a small part of what was needed. The CDC worked with the Board of Education and the Depart- ment of Health to put together comprehensive antiviolence recommenda- tions that all could support.51 Improving School Safety That New York City schools were unsafe was not news to the chancel- lor or his staff.52 They had been asking for increased funding for metal detectors and other programs, without success. In addition, they had worked hard to convince principals to accept these programs. Carol Beck had been particularly opposed to the institution of metal detectors, fear- ing that they made school seem like a prison. The Sumpter shooting shifted attitudes dramatically: those unwilling to fund the security pro- grams became ready to do so, and those opposed to their use then were now ready to accept them. At the time of the shooting, having a âmetal detector programâ meant that a team of security personnel came to the school on a rotating basis and checked students using handheld instruments. On February 27th, the day after the Sumpter shooting, Chancellor Joseph Fernandez told a meeting of high school principals that he would ask the city for money to put a metal detector team at each of the cityâs 120 high schools.53 Accord- ing to newspaper reports, metal detectors were âimmediatelyâ placed at Jefferson on a daily basis.54 Politicians worked quickly to secure funds. State assembly speaker Saul Weprin, a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School, joined with other leading politicians in the effort to obtain financial support. By March 1, 1992, Mayor Dinkins had announced a $28 million plan to im- prove school safety. The plan included the following elements: â¢ Metal detectors will be used on all school days at Thomas Jefferson, Erasmus Hall, George W. Wingate, and Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn and James Monroe High School in the Bronx. These high schools have had high incidences of violence and weapons seizures. â¢ After a Police Department audit of the systemâs 120 high schools, three schools will be added to the upgraded security program. â¢ The Police Department will conduct daily patrols inside and out- side these schools. Each school will also appoint a security coordinator. â¢ The Department of Mental Health and the Department of Youth Services will develop supplemental programs at the 40 high schools and in their communities dealing with violence prevention and crime. â¢ There will be additional after-school programs at these schools and violence prevention training for teachers and students.
212 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE â¢ The Board of Education and other agencies involved will submit reports on the school safety program to deputy mayors Barbara Fife and Norman Steisel every two weeks. â¢ The city comptroller and the School Construction Authority will be asked to speed up the purchase of metal detectors.55 The United Federation of Teachers, the New York City teachersâ union, argued for other safety measures as well. They urged that âdan- gerous kidsâ be placed in âspecial settings.â They demanded the trans- fer of 25 to 30 students out of Thomas Jefferson High School. This was a controversial proposition, not least because none of the students in- volved in the shootings, whether shooter or victim, appeared to fit the description of âdangerous kid.â The chancellor was not in favor of such a program and resisted wholesale removals without due process. School transfers were a tool that parents considered as a way of pro- tecting their children. Mass transfers were feared in the immediate after- math of the second shooting. In fact, Newsday erroneously reported, âMore than 400 students asked to transfer out . . . in the wake of the shooting deaths Wednesday.â56 Carol Beck was quoted in the same piece as saying, âWe got through a very trying day. There were many parents who came, some apprehensive and concerned, but they saw the strength of the students who were here. We arenât acting so quickly, snatching the children and discharging them.â Her comments acknowledged the very real fear of mass transfers. That the transfers did not materialize may be attributable in part to the massive outpouring of support for the school provided by celebrities, politicians, local community leaders, and others. One student, Eric Alexander, was quoted as saying, âAt first we thought we were on our own. I wanted to see who cared, who is for real, which teachers showed up. It made a difference.â57 In the weeks after the second shooting, only 10 students applied to transfer. Perhaps the most innovative ideaâone that was proposed prior to the shootings as part of his efforts to respond to high levels of violenceâ was Chancellor Fernandezâs idea to create 50 small schools, to replace very large schools like Thomas Jefferson, which had had as many as 4,000 students enrolled. Fernandez received substantial support from New Yorkâs business and foundation communities and was able to establish 40 new schools, often organized around innovative concepts.58 Building Social Cohesion A wide array of community efforts was undertaken to build social cohesion. Among these were a series of antiviolence marches and rallies, led by local organizers and attended by celebrities, including Bill Cosby,
213WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? Cicely Tyson, and Spike Lee.59 The marches advocated for multiple im- provements in the community, including metal detectors, more programs for youth, and getting guns off the streets.60 At the first march, on March 2, nearly 800 students, parents, and residents, together with Bill Cosby, Mayor Dinkins, and local clergy, gathered in front of the school. Mayor Dinkins called for an antiviolence crusade: âI say what we need now is an anti-violence movement. Weâve got to stop killing each other. Weâve got to shield our babies. Weâve got to stand in front of them. We must.â61 A remarkable year-long intervention, led by Councilwoman Priscilla Wooten, Board of Education member Irene Impellizzeri, and Principal Beck, took groups of 150 students on retreats to the Fallsview Hotel, a famous resort in the Catskill Mountains.62 These weekend encounters posed a simple question, âWhat do we have in common?â Council- woman Wooten remembered that it was difficult for the students, who came from different ethnic backgrounds, housing projects, gangs, and lifestyles, to answer that question. By the end of the weekend, students were able to recognize that they did have something in common: they were all members of the Thomas Jefferson High School community. The idea that the behavior of each would reflect on all created a new founda- tion for cooperation. But it was not easy for Wooten and her team to achieve this goal. It required, on one hand, enforcing discipline, and on the other hand, ensur- ing students that the adults cared. Wooten adeptly combined the two in managing incidents large and small. For example, she worked with the Fallsview team to organize a prom for the young people, which included an âice cream sundae roomâ with 25 different flavors of ice cream. When no one wanted prom night to end, she took them swimming at 2 a.m. By contrast, she dealt swiftly with infractions of the rules. Young police officers, who accompanied the retreats, were always on hand to take those who crossed the line back to the city. On one occasion, she got so angry with the young people that she sent everyone to their rooms. The next day she received flowers from all the youths by way of apology. âI cried,â she told us. âYou have to let them see your tears.â Newsday reported that, a year after the shooting, a new positive atti- tude existed at Jefferson. Principal Beck attributed most of the positive change in the school to the program of retreats. She described, â[Students at the retreat] sit down and talk about issues that relate to the whole rite of passage concept. They talk about the destructiveness of violence. They use films, videos, and role playing.â63 Another important effort to stem violence was the East New York: United for Safety Project. This program, funded by CDC, brought to- gether a diverse group of organizations, including Victim Services, the New York City Department of Health, the Cypress Hills Development
214 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Corporation, the East New York Urban Corporation, and the United Com- munity Center, as well as an evaluation team from New York University. Diverse efforts were undertaken as part of the United for Safety Project. One that we learned about in detail was a community education project, under the leadership of the Health Department. In the first phase of the project, the agencyâs public education coordinator conducted focus groups to understand attitudes toward violence and to develop effective educa- tional materials. The focus groups made it clear that children, teens, and adults were responsive to different messages. While the younger children responded to messages like âGuns will shatter your dreams,â accompanied by the image of a cap and gown under broken glass, the teens made it clear they needed something more extreme. The poster they decided to go with carried the message âBuy One, Get One Freeâ illustrated with the image of a young boy with a gun and a coffin. The poster targeting adults was âParents Teach Children to Fight.â The visual aid included photographs of families wearing picket signs with slogans such as âPeople Fighting for a Safer Communityâ and a subheading, âFight Violence, Not Your Neigh- bor.â Once the team had developed the posters, they placed them strategi- cally throughout the community (see Figure 7-2). Adjudication of the Bentley Case Jason Bentley was initially charged with murder in the second degree, a charge that carried a minimum sentence of 5 years to life and a maximum sentence of 9 years to life. Bentleyâs case came before Judge Michael Juviler because of a question about the admissibility of a statement Bentley had made to the police. Because the police had denied Bentley access to a lawyer, Judge Juviler found the statement tainted and suppressed it. With- out that evidence, which was an important part of the case, the district attorney and the defense attorney agreed with Judge Juviler to lower the charge to manslaughter in the first degree. Judge Juviler pointed out that, according to witnesses and the shooterâs statement, there was a conceiv- able, but weak, self-defense justification. Apparently, this was not pursued by the defense team. Bentley pleaded guilty to the lesser charge and was convicted on June 22, 1992. On August 3, 1992, he was sentenced by Judge Juviler to 3 to 9 years in prison. He spent the first part of his sentence in a youth facility and then was transferred to an adult facility, where he fin- ished out his term of imprisonment. Adjudication of the Sumpter Case Khalil Sumpterâs case was controversial from the outset. The first newspaper accounts reported that he was âa 15-year-old boy bearing a
215WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? grudge and carrying a stolen .38-cal. Smith and Wesson revolver . . . . âThis was a clear assassination,â said Chief John Hill, commander of the Brooklyn North Patrol Borough.â64 Other articles were more sympa- thetic, pointing out that Khalil was a fearful young man,65 who acted in self-defense. The two polesââunjustified assassinâ and âfearful youthââ defined much of the debate that transpired at Khalilâs trial. From the first, his lawyer, John Russell, emphasized that Khalil had committed the crimes because he feared for his life. Russell was joined by noted civil rights lawyer, William Kunstler, and his associate, Ron Kuby. Together they organized a vigorous defense that focused on two points: (1) Khalil feared for his life and hence acted in self-defense and (2) he was suffering from mental illness related to stress and trauma from living in FIGURE 7-2 Poster developed by the New York City Department of Health.
216 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE East New York. The district attorneyâs office, represented by Ann Gut- mann and Lance Ojiste, insisted that his actions were deliberate, consid- ered, and without justification. The trial opened in June 1993.66 The prosecution presented evidence from the school and from counseling centers where he had been treated to make the case that Khalil had been disruptive and violent in the past. They also argued that his purported fear did not justify the shootings. Khalil, in their view, had not exhausted his options within the system of supports available at the school and in the community. It was his ten- dency toward violence that accounted for his actions, not his fear. In support of their case, they called psychiatrist Robert H. Berger. Berger argued that Khalil was a manipulative young man, whose pattern was to seek quick gratification and avoid responsibility. Berger read from notes of a therapist who had treated Khalil, which stated, âKhalil appears to be fascinated by violence and hurting people who challenge him.â67 In Bergerâs view, Khalil was not acting under duress or the influence of extreme emotional disturbance. Rather, his actions were explained by his manipulative and antisocial personality.68 The defense team of William Kunstler, John Russell, and Ron Kuby argued that Khalil had acted in self-defense, based on the perception that he was going to be harmed and possibly killed. Kuby told us that Bernard Goetz, the 1984 âsubway killer,â had established the legitimacy of being afraid in New York City, and this was a cornerstone of the defense.69 Khalil testified about his perception of the danger he faced. He de- tailed the events leading up to the shooting, already described here. He also described that, on the day of the shooting, he saw Tyrone, Ian, and about eight to 10 other boys with them walking on the second floor. Khalil said that when he saw them he just kept walking, but then he saw Tyrone with his hand in his pocket and Ian with his hand âup under his jacket.â At that moment, âI thought my life was in danger or that I was going to be seriously harmed.â70 He noted later in his testimony, âIt was well known through Jefferson that Tyrone carried a razor. That they allâ basically all their friends carried weapons.â71 Asked to explain why he shot Moore and Sinkler, he said, âAt the time I was justâat the moment when I saw them reaching in their pockets, I was just real scared. The day before they had shot at me so there was no doubt in my mind that they would try to harm me today and I justâI just got petrified. I pulled out the gun and I shot twice.â72 Forensic psychiatrist Stephen Teich testified for the defense as to Khalilâs state of mind on the day of the shootings.73 Teich testified, when asked about Khalilâs mental state on February 26, 1992, âMy conclusion was that at the time of this incident, Mr. Sumpter perceived that he was in danger and that he was acting in self-defense to prevent himself from
217WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? what he perceived as potentially being killed. Now, I canât ascertain whether in fact . . . the threat was real or the threat was what he perceived as a cumulative result of the threats he had experienced the day before, his experience the day before and what happened in the period before. But itâs clear in my mind that his perception of what was happening was that his life was threatened.â74 In addition to a sense of impending harm, Teich also thought that Khalil was in a state of emotional distress, based on high levels of stress and past trauma. Teich reviewed with us the chronic stress and traumas that had contributed to Khalilâs state of mental distress: his parentsâ divorce, his sisterâs angry departure from the family home, and the stab- bing of a friend, which had led Sumpter to request a transfer from Graphic Arts High School to Jefferson.75 In summation, William Kunstler argued that, âthe only issues that the defense is really raising is, one, whether he was acting in self-defense . . . or whether he was acting under this term âextreme emotional disturbance,â or essentially whether he intended to kill anyone under the murder statute.â76 Ann Gutmann concluded that Khalilâs actions were driven by anger, not by fear, âwithin the personality of a boy who felt that he was entitled to confront and punish those who dared to challenge him.â77 The jury found that Khalil had acted under intense emotional distress and reduced the charges to two counts of first degree manslaughter. The defense team asked for leniency in the sentencing, arguing that âtwo young lives have already been tragically lost, letâs not make matters worse by sending [Khalil] away.â78 On September 7, 1993, Judge Francis X. Egitto, who was known to favor long sentences, imposed the maximum sentence of 6 2/3 to 20 years in prison.79 Khalil was released on October 23, 1998. THE CONTEXT OF THE SHOOTINGS: THE NESTED SYSTEMS Ecological Transition and Its Impact The social milieu of East New York is, in no small measure, condi- tioned by physical processes of urban decay, exacerbated by cuts in essen- tial municipal services in the early 1970s that were instituted well before New York City confronted any significant fiscal crisis.80 Firefighting services came under particularly careful scrutiny. Writing in 1969, the Rand Corporation saw East New York as the Brooklyn neigh- borhood most threatened by rising rates of fire and building abandonment: [Most] of the neighborhoods with the fastest increases [in alarms] cluster together somewhat to the east of the high-alarm area in Brownsville . . . .
218 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE The neighborhood with the highest annual percentage increase is . . . in East New York. Its total number of alarms increased at an average annual rate of 44.3 percent in the period 1962â68, compared with a 10.8 percent increase for Brooklyn as a whole.81 The response of the city fathers was to eliminate about 10 percent of the cityâs fire companies, beginning in 1972 and 1974. The closings fo- cused particularly on units located in the South Bronx, Harlem, and the threatened zone of Brooklyn, which included East New York. Figure 7-3 shows the result citywide when, over the course of a decade, these af- fected communities were particularly hard hit by a series of devastating â 80 to â33 â 33 to â20 â 20 to â10 â 10 to + FIGURE 7-3 Percentage loss of housing units between 1970 and 1980. Figure represents most severe to least severe loss of housing units in each area. SOURCE: Data from McCord and Freeman (1990).
219WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? fires. Some Health Areas82 lost as much as 80 percent of housing units between 1970 and 1980. Note the concentration of heavy damage in the Brownsville-East New York section of Brooklyn. Figure 7-4 shows the consequent, massive, forced displacement of community residents who lost their homes in these fires. Of particular interest are those health areas that lost or gained 2,500 or more in black population between 1970 and 1980. Again, while Harlem and the South Central Bronx were particularly affected, Brownsville-East New York also suffered greatly. â2,500 or more â2,500 to 2,500 2,500 or more FIGURE 7-4 Absolute number of forced displacement of population from 1970 to 1980. SOURCE: Data from McCord and Freeman (1990).
220 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Figure 7-5 is taken from data developed by McCord and Freeman who demonstrated that, by 1980, adult males in Central Harlem had lower life expectancy than adult males in Bangladesh. Significantly, New York City Health Areas with standardized mortality rates that are two to nearly four times higher than those of the U.S. white population average coin- cide with those New York City districts that suffered the worst outbreak of contagious fire and abandonment. While the highest mortality rates were observed in Central Harlem, clearly the band across Northern Brook- lyn, which includes East New York, was almost as badly affected. Figure 7-1 shows the location of East New Yorkâs two zip codes, 11207 (marked as 7) and 11208 (marked as 8). In 1990 both zip codes reported similar proportions of adults not in the workforce (29.8 percent) and vir- tually identical proportions of students having completed high school (respectively, 19.5 and 19.7 percent). Zip code 11207 had 38.5 percent of families with children having two parents, and zip code 11208 had 48 percent. FIGURE 7-5 Population odds ratio for dying. SOURCE: Data from McCord and Freeman (1990). 2.00 to 2.27 2.27 to 3.95
221WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? Between 1980 and 1990, however, zip code 11207 lost 19.0 percent of housing and 13.8 percent of its population to continuing contagious ur- ban decay, and zip code 11208 lost 5.4 percent of its housing but gained 6.2 percent in its population. As shown in Table 7-2, between 1989 and 1991 zip code 11207 reported far higher rates of homicide and syphilis that either its neighbor zip code, 11208, or the city as a whole. Clearly, large sections of East New York began suffering contagious urban decay and depopulation earlier than the rest of the city and contin- ued later than the rest of the city. Zip code 11207 seems the worst af- fected, and we attribute its markedly increased rates of homicide and syphilis and decreased rate of families with two parents to this pattern of decay and neglect. Thomas Jefferson High School was located in this particularly hard-hit area. Drugs and Violence Drugs and guns moved into East New York throughout the 1980s, reaching a peak between 1989 and 1993. All observers agree that guns were everywhere, and many people felt they needed to carry a gun. One Jefferson student was quoted in the paper as saying, âIâm not scared to go to school. I come here with a weapon, a 9-millimeter automatic. So it donât make no difference. Iâd rather use my fists, but if it came down to that, Iâm going to use it.â83 Patrick Carroll, then head of the 75th Precinct, offered a number of ways of imagining the amount of violence that was going on: â¢ the number of âaidedâ casesâthat is, cases in which officers of- fered aid to injured peopleârelated to gunshots reached 600 in 1993, including those dead from their wounds; â¢ the sheer number of drug- and weapon-related arrests and the number of weapons confiscated each year; and TABLE 7-2 Average Annual Morbidity and Mortality for East New York Zip Codes and New York City, 1989â1991 (rate per 100,000) Zip Code Homicide Infant Deathsa Tuberculosis AIDS Syphilis 11207 73.8 97.4 56.6 93.7 479.8 11208 53.7 90.1 44.4 93.4 315.2 New York City 26.9 76.2 44.6 97.0 179.0 aRate per 10,000. SOURCE: New York City Department of Health.
222 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE â¢ two shootings of police officers, within a month of each other, right outside the precinct building, as the officers were on their way to the bodega across the street.84 In 1991, when people in the neighborhood came to Carroll for advice about the situation, he told them to go to Washington in support of the Brady Bill.85 East New York was thus one of the first communities to mobilize in support of the bill. Carroll emphasized the effort the commu- nity made, finding the money and mobilizing to send 500 people in 12 buses to the demonstration.86 As in other New York City neighborhoods, crack cocaine contributed to a major decline in the area. Drug sales and consumption were every- where. Because of the enormous profits, many entered the market, and battles for turf became an important part of the scene. The police at- tempted to impose order but were behind for a number of years. In the interim, violence, which had long been a part of the East New York scene, took on an even more important role in daily life. The 75th Precinct reported 109 homicides in 1990, 115 in 1991, 92 in 1992, and 129 in 1993, when it led the city.87 In addition to the close link between drug sales and violence, Carroll stressed that the drug dealers created the street culture that was so influ- ential on the young. Drug dealers actively recruited young boys to work for them. Their cars, jewelry, and power made them important role mod- els, outshining the model of honest but less remunerative hard work rep- resented by the parents of many of the young people. Community activists pointed out some other implications of the drugs and violence. One that they stressed was the civic paralysis that accom- panied the widespread violence. One group explained that, because it was hard to get people to meetings, they started to escort people to and from meetings. When this became too dangerous, they switched to es- corting people by car. After a while, the program lost steam because a huge effort had to be expended before even starting a meeting. Many similar stories were recounted to emphasize the multiple levels of discon- nect triggered by the violence in the streets. The Culture of Violence: The Street Ballet Jane Jacobs, in her classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities developed the image of the âstreet balletâ created by neighbors on an urban block: The stretch of Hudson Street where I live is each day the scene of an intricate sidewalk ballet. I make my own entrance into it a little after
223WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? eight when I put out the garbage can, surely a prosaic occupation, but I enjoy my part, my little clang, as the droves of junior high school stu- dents walk by the center of the stage dropping candy wrappers. (How do they eat so much candy so early in the morning?) While I sweep up the wrappers I watch the other rituals of morning: Mr. Halpert unlock- ing the laundryâs handcart from its mooring to a cellar door, Joe Cornac- chiaâs son-in-law stacking out the empty crates from the delicatessen, the barber bringing out his sidewalk folding chair, Mr. Goldstein ar- ranging the coils of wire which proclaim the hardware store is open, the wife of the tenementâs superintendent depositing her chunky three-year- old with a toy mandolin on the stoop, the vantage point from which he is learning the English his mother cannot speak.88 The world envisioned by Jacobs is ordered by rituals that support the health and well-being of the neighborhood. The rituals provide for the safety of the block and form the community that can fight for the political rights of the area. This proved life-saving when Hudson Street was threat- ened by a highway, which was ultimately stopped by intensive local mobilization. The concept of street ballet is essential for understanding the ways in which East New York functioned in the early 1990s. An experienced police officer named Lonnie Hayes gave the following description of the street ballet in Greg Donaldsonâs book: âSay youâre walking down the street with your woman,â Lonnie goes on, âand some guy around your building says, âHey I want your lady to suck my dick,â and you just grin.â Lonnie displays a lame smile. âThen the guys get together and they start talking. You know, âHey, I told that guyâs woman to suck my dick and he didnât do nothinâ.â Then they start getting the idea that they should rob you.â Lonnie acts out the robbery, with the victim raising his hand in a feeble gesture of protest. Then he assumes the role of the tough guy. ââPut your hand down. I told you not to move your fuckinâ hand.â The next thing you know, they have your old lady up on the roof and they really are makinâ her suck their dicks.â89 The Culture of Violence: The Youth Culture A key issue in understanding the violence at Thomas Jefferson High School is understanding the extent to which it fits into the pattern of the elaborate street ballet that was going on in East New York. Contrasting the street ballet of Jacobs with that of Donaldson, a whole series of differ- ences emerges. Most obvious is that the first is prosaic, the second pro- fane. In the second, the language of the story is assaultive and represents the threat of assault that hangs over the encounter.
224 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Perhaps equally obvious is the extent to which the bystanders move into the space of the passerby in the second scenario. Greg Donaldson related a story that illustrates this point. He was walking down the street in East New York and passed some young boys playing with a ball. One threw the ball at Donaldson and hit him in the back. The first pointâthe threat of assaultâand the secondâthe move into personal spaceâare related in the following manner: the move tests the passerbyâs vulnerability to assault. If the passerby is found to be weakânote the âlameâ smile Hayes referred toâthen the others may take what he has. As robbery is a major economic activity among the young, largely deprived of other ways of getting goods they desire, one can conceptualize the difference between Hudson Street and East New York in economic terms. The business of Hudson Street is contained in stores. The business of East New York is in the streets. On Hudson Street, there is a flourishing market economy, while in East New York, the market economy has collapsed and the nascent capitalists have re- turned to primitive accumulation. What is more subtle in all of this is that the âstuffâ that can be taken includes not only material objects, but also reputation. When the pass- erby in Hayesâs story smiles lamely, he establishes a reputation as âsome- one who can be taken,â hence it is natural, in the language of that time, that people begin to think of robbing him, first of his things, then of exclusive sexual access to his woman. A reputation, once established, works as a kind of currency, an entitlement card that provides the card- holder with myriad privileges. But because the reputation of one person is âboughtâ at the expense of another person, the possibility that someone will want to take oneâs reputation always exists. This is highly reminis- cent of what happened among gunslingers in the Wild West, who lived with the fear of the youthful challengers who would, one day, defeat them. Part of the power of a street ballet lies in the fact that its symbols are understood by all who participate, and thus a given act triggers an appro- priate next action. In this sense, the actions and next actions form a behavioral vocabulary that is easily read by people familiar with the scene. Greg Donaldson, when hit by the ball, picked it up, put it in his pocket and kept on walking. In taking the boysâ ball and walking on, he met their challenge and issued one of his own, one that they did not meet. Their failure to counterattack gave him reputation, and took reputation from them. Why, with so much at stake, did they not act to get their ball back? Part of the answer, Donaldson thought, lay in the fact that white men were outside of their system of thinking. A big, tall, unconcerned
225WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? white guy in street clothes had to be an undercover cop, hence a man with a gun and a license to kill. Such were not attacked, Donaldson observed. Returning to the story told by Lonnie Hayes, what was the threatened young man supposed to do? Lonnie did not answer that directly, but rather offered another story of challenge, to which he proposed two pos- sible responses. âIf you decide to take him out, you have to do it right, because if you fuck up, heâll kill you. You come up on him real fast with your head down and your hands in your pockets. Or you get your crew. Thatâs why you need a crew. Thatâs how you act when you live around here, and that is why so many brothers are in jail.â90 In general, these kinds of challenges lead to âbeef.â East New York was often described as a tense, hostile atmosphere, in which people al- ways had beef with each other. It is therefore critically important to investigate this term. In fact, one police officer we interviewed, aware that this report would go to Congress, suggested that, if Congress wanted to understand East New York, they should focus on beef.91 Beef is a term for interpersonal problems that are at a boiling point. Beef can start over any apparent mistreatment, including a wrong look, a disrespectful action, or a move into personal space. Handling beef was all-important as it contributed to the establishment of reputation, as sug- gested by Lonnie Hayes. Some aspects of beef had characterized rough Brooklyn neighborhoods for many generations: the critical difference in East New York, in 1991â1992, was that easy access to weapons meant that it was easy for the common thug to settle scores in a manner once re- served for major gangsters. âHaving beef,â and responses required to that state, were truly a matter of life and death for Brooklyn teenagers at that time. We may infer that, for Jason and Khalil, their respective beefs had the weight of the world attached to them: they must have because they were so desperate to resolve the situations in which they found themselves. Rules of the Street System Two major rules in the vocabulary of violence can be discerned. First, a challenge had to be answered. There was really no getting around that fact. One young man told us, âI know itâs a clichÃ© and all, but where I come from there is no such thing as turn the other cheek. You gotta settle it right there and then. Theyâll come back with their friends. You have to assert yourself.â92 One interviewee told us his brothers would beat him all the time to make him tough.93 The corollary to rule one was that avoiding confrontation or resolving it with subtle maneuvers was possible, even advisable. An interviewee
226 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE made the point that he thought people would always âcatch beef.â He thought the key was knowing what to do, how to fight, how to scare someone, how to get the message across that âyou are not a punk.â94 Donaldson made much the same point to us, describing how adroitly Sharron Corley, the teen star of his book, handled dangerous fellows who often posed a tremendous threat to him.95 The youths who lacked social skills, physical strength and agility, and intelligence were least likely to be able to employ these alternative strategies and most likely to be caught up in situations, either as victim or assailant. Another corollary of the confrontation rule is that danger was highly localized, even in the East New York setting. Young people knew the geography well enough to know how to stay away from those places that were most violent. One Jefferson alumni pointed out that violence was a part of life, but you got into trouble only if you went someplace where you shouldnât have been. As an example, he explained that he did not go to graduation. It was known that he was moving shortly thereafter. Therefore, anybody who had beef with him would have to settle it then. Instead of taking the risk, he asked his mother to pick up his diploma.96 Second, reputation had to be established and protected. Some actions were highly detrimental to reputation, including doing well in school, while others were very supportive of establishing reputation, such as hanging with a respected crew. One young man described being a mem- ber of the LoLifes, a gang of sorts whose major objective was to shoplift Polo clothing. He wanted to be âdownâ with the LoLifes because it was an honor that came from everyone knowing that you were a part of one of the largest gangs in the city. He thought that most of East New York operated under that mentality: everyone did what they did to gain noto- riety. People ran when they saw you coming and you never even had to do anything if you ran with the right crew. Guns had a legitimate role in managing confrontation-reputation sce- narios. One young man who was deeply involved in the street scene said that he would walk around with a gun and go to school with a gun. People didnât mess with him because they knew he was not to be messed with. He was willing to use the gun to remind them. He noted, âOnce in a while I had to bust off a shot or two to tell niggas whatâs up.â97 Another young man, who was more ambivalently engaged with street life, ex- plained that he took a gun to school most of the time. At first, the gun was for defense, but then it became an offensive tool. He used it to threaten people and to show off, thus gaining status as a âbad motherfucker.â98 With the tension and pressure of violence omnipresent, some release was needed, and âwildingâ appears to have provided a much-needed outlet from the rigors of daily life under a reign of terror. Wilding was a fundamental part of the world of boys. âWildingâ could be either a group
227WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? or an individual behavior. From our interviews, we came to think of wilding as a state in which the urge to act out, most often in a violent and disruptive manner, overcame the young personâs consciousness. It was a state of altered consciousness, described by our interviewees as a state in which âyou have no idea what is going on. You of sort black out.â Per- haps because of the lack of control people experienced in the wilding state, they often made conscious choices in setting the stage for their wilding, avoiding groups and places that were wilder than they wished to be. At the heart of the act of wilding was the creation of fear in other people, which was experienced as very pleasurable. Interviewees tended to describe their own wilding with a certain amount of happy indulgence: âWe would beat people up for funâ was a typical description. The wild- ing of others was viewed with more concern, edging toward a sense that they had entered a berserk state, that is, they were out of control in a deeper and more frightening way. Khalil Sumpter, some thought, may have âwilded outâ when he killed Tyrone and Ian. The language of the youth, including such complex terms as wilding, beef, and reputation, was highly developed and very specific (hence our effort to provide detailed definitions). The rules of behavior were well codified, and strictly enforced. In sum, it was impossible for a boy to grow up in East New York without participating, however obliquely, in the culture of violence. Although personal characteristics played a part in the unfolding of situations, an enormous amount of behavior was driven by the stringent rules around confrontation and reputation on one hand, and the single form of release, wilding, on the other. School and Family In the systems hierarchy guiding this study, school and family are placed subordinate to the larger systems of community collapse, the drug wars, and the street culture of violence. Carol Beckâs impressive effort at reanimating Thomas Jefferson High School provides a case in point. She generally directed her efforts at creating a positive alternative to the streets. She suppressed violence in the schools. She attempted to be a positive role model and to bring in others who were also positive. This was a strategy that was highly admired by other adults, leading to her receiving the Readersâ Digest American Hero in Education Award in 1991.99 These actions, however, were distrusted by the youth, who had little faith that the world she described either existed or was attainable by them. They put much more faith in the immediacy of the violence that surrounded them and defined their minute-to-minute existence. One young man told The New York Times, âItâs like this. If you were some-
228 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE bodyâs bigger brother and you tell them, if somebody do this to you, you do that to them, who you gonâ listen to? Somebody who come to the school and tell you, âStay away from drugs and donât fightâ or do you listen to your older brother?â100 Families, too, attempted to guide their children in positive paths. As Jason Bentley described his own family, his father often lectured him on the right way to act. Sadly, one can imagine that the lectures fell short of addressing the sights and sounds of East New York. As one example, Jason described, at approximately age 5, seeing an even littler boy stab his older brother with a broken bottle because he would not share his icee. Jason exclaimed, âOver an icee!â the chill of the moment still with him, nearly 20 years later. It is generally true that families have little training in the management of trauma, and it was certainly true that families were not prepared to deal with the magnitude and the ferocity of the traumas their children saw on a nearly daily basis. Returning to the confrontation-reputation system, this system was largely lost on parents, teachers, and other adults. One adult, his voice dripping with sarcasm, told a story of a violent act, âtriggered by some- thing really important: somebody stepped on his sneakers.â101 A youth we interviewed told us, âIf you by yourself unarmed and with a new pair of sneakers, donât even wear them sneakers if you ainât ready to fight for them.â102 Principal Carol Beck called Bentleyâs shooting âmindless,â103 missing the very real fear that caused him to act as he did. The chasm between the teenagers and the adults was evident in the gap in language. The young people interviewed were keenly aware of a breakdown in communication across the generations. By contrast, the adults usually focused on failing parents, rather than on the concept pro- posed by the young people that a whole generation had disconnected from another generation. Khalil Sumpterâs mother reflected that her sonâs growing terror failed to make an impression on her because she couldnât imagine the kinds of goings-on that he was describing.104 The confrontation-reputation system and the disconnection from the adult world worked synergistically to create enormous isolation for the young people. Young people we interviewed were emphatic that they had to resolve problems on their own. This was perhaps least understood of all the issues surrounding the two shootings. A number of adults insisted that the youth had adults to whom they could have turned. The youth strongly rejected that idea. One young man said it was preposter- ous. There was no way that, given the reality of East New York at that time, the shooters could have talked to anyone. He insisted emphatically that they did not have that option.105
229WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? Growing Up in East New York Seeing violence was a part of growing up in East New York. The New York Times conducted focus groups with 19 Thomas Jefferson students in the aftermath of the Sumpter shooting.106 The reporters opened the con- versation by asking the participants if they knew people who had been shot. These opening responses set the pattern: Mariana Bryant: Last night we was looking in my junior high school yearbook and my friend pointed out a number of people in that book that was dead. Q: About how many would you estimate? Mariana: Ten, all guys from eighth and ninth grade. Caroline Giffith: There was a shooting around my building over this girl. I was on my way to school. Two guys were going with one girl, so after one found out then he just pulled out his gun and shot him. . . . The one that got shot was 17. Sean Williams: One of the guys that died from this school was Wesley . . . He got shot in a barbershop right across the street on Pennsylvania. . . . I think he was 16. Seeing violence was cited by a number of people as part of a develop- mental pathway that led young people to doing violence. Numbing, hypersensitivity to sound, and dissociative states were some of the men- tal states young people described that appear to have resulted from their exposure to violence. It is clear that, despite the remarkable levels of stress and trauma, there was little treatment available. Thus, the accom- modations to injury were those available to young people functioning at a distance from adults: minimizing (âunless the gunshots were quite close, you just ignored them and kept on goingâ107); universalizing (âAinât no place to go. You go to California and you canât even wear colored clothes out there. Theyâve got that in Texas. You canât go nowhereâ108); taking the offensive (âI was petrified. . . . I shot twiceâ109); and wilding (âwe beat people up. . . . It was funâ110). These reactions were permissive of violence both directly, as in wilding, and indirectly, as in assuming that violence was the natural state of human existence. In addition to facilitating the use of violence, seeing violence had other effects on development. Grief and anxiety interfered with learning. Chronic mourning interfered with the development of trust in the de- pendability of human beings. Fear limited freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, hence interfering with the development of civic life and civic skills. Not only was a childhood in East New York difficult to endure, it ill-prepared the young person for life in other parts of their country, not to mention the world.
230 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE IN RETROSPECT This study was ending just at the approach of the tenth anniversary of the Bentley shooting and will be released around the time of the tenth anniversary of the Sumpter shooting. Much has changed in those 10 years, including in East New York. A hopeful article in The New York Times pointed to dramatic changes in the neighborhood, both in terms of the decline of the negative and the growth of the positive.111 In the fol- lowing paragraphs, we explore four issues: the connection between eco- logical transition and the evolution of the street ballet, the brief career of the violence epidemic, its lasting impact on a cohort that was in its teens, and the lessons for the future of schools. Ecology and the Street Ballet We have suggested that East New York was the product of conta- gious urban decay. The loss of housing, the displacement of large seg- ments of the community, and the increasing isolation of East New York from the rest of the city all contributed to the conditions that resulted in the shootings at Thomas Jefferson High School. In essence, East New York became a marginalized community in the period between 1970 and 1990. The withdrawal of many city services, ranging from firefighting services to sanitation and trash pickup, was among the many markers of this marginalization. During this period, many of the communityâs residents rarely ventured beyond its borders to visit other neighborhoods, other communities, or other boroughs of the city. Increases in joblessness and the concentration of poverty in East New York exacerbated the communityâs social isolation. Inevitably, the processes that created this marginalization would have an impact on fami- lies and on youth. Childrearing practices are inevitably affected by the social structure of neighborhood life and by the opportunities that exist for adults and family members to participate fully in the economic and social life of the city. As East New York became increasingly disconnected from the rest of New York City and as the drug trade became more prevalent, commu- nity values shifted dramatically. As noted earlier, guns became more prevalent, shootings and gun-related homicides became commonplace, and community residents became more and more inured to the violence that surrounded them. More importantly, many accepted gun-related, violent behavior as a sad but inevitable aspect of community life. The impact on the communityâs values was also dramatic. Many of the residents whom we interviewed described the value and importance of being perceived as tough, of having a reputation for being tough, of
231WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? being prepared for danger, and of having survived one or more violent encounters. Being tough was an important means of not being a victim, and this was frequently reported as one of the major life priorities for adults and for adolescents during the 1980s and 1990s. East New York was by no means the only community to suffer rapid, destructive changes in its social structure as a result of deurbanization. We suggest that an elaborate and characteristic behavioral repertory will develop within any community that is marginalized, as this community was.112 Symbols of individual and group worthâwhich enable group members to carry out many social and individual objectivesâwill change and will inevitably begin to differ significantly from those of mainstream society. In such settings, actions become a form of communication, a language in which individuals communicate who they are, what they value, what they can do, and what they are prepared to do. They become aspects of oneâs personal identityâoneâs ârepââthat speaks as loudly (and often more effectively) than words. The physical disintegration of the community, in other words, is likely to have an associated disintegration of the social âglueâ that permits com- munities to remain cohesive and intact. We suggest that violent acts in particular may emerge as key behavioral symbols for the residents of communities that have suffered this degree of desolation and isolation. In the South Bronx, in Harlem, in the Central Ward of Newark, New Jersey, and in a host of other highly segregated, very poor communities, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, high rates of tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases are all clustered closely together, along with high rates of homi- cide and interpersonal violence. Communities function best, as Granovetter (1995) has shown, when weak ties (for example, those created by friendship and/or social net- works) complement those defined by the strong ties created by member- ship in an ethnic group, an age cohort, oneâs occupation, family structure, place of residence, and so on.113 In East New York, a principal effect of nearly three decades of contagious urban decay, from the early 1960s into 1990, was to disconnect the youth from the social structures that would ensure entry to the adult worlds of work and family-building. Put an- other way, not only was the East New York community marginalized from the larger city, but also the youth of the community were isolated from the adults. Although we arrived at this idea from a theoretical perspective, the young people were well aware of it. Jason Bentley first pointed this out to us, noting that he thought the rift between the generations was a funda- mental source of violence. The rift was accompanied by a shift in commu- nication, such that adults and young people no longer communicated. He noted: âKids trying to be adults and most of them not respecting the
232 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE BOX 7-2 Jason Bentley on the Rift Between the Generations There are many factors that contribute to violence among young people. One of those factors is the breakdown of the relationship between the older and younger generations. The destruction of the family structure resulted in a loss of proper adult guidance for the youth. As things persisted, the rift between the generations grew farther apart, adding to the development of a hostile atmosphere in the community and violence amongst the youth. Back in the 1980s âcrackâ hit the scene. Its impact was devastating to the com- munities it touched. It divided the community into three parts: those that sold the drugs, those that used the drugs, and those not included in the above. The division of the community was the catalyst for the rift that formed between the generations. What the crack epidemic did was destroy the family structure. It snatched the father figure out of the home either by death, imprisonment, or it assassinated his respectability because he was strung out on crack. The same with the mother or any other authoritative figure in the household. Some families remained intact, but the majority were infected [affected] in some form or fashion. Needless to say, without an authoritative figure in the home, guidance went out the window. Without proper guidance in the home, most young people turned to the streets for guidance. Some had guidance in the home but chose to ignore it. Due to the lack of proper guidance young people started to take on the respon- sibilities of an adult before they were prepared for such a task. Most young people had to support themselves and sometimes their own families as well. Young females started having babies at young ages, becoming children without guidance trying to give guidance. Again, the father figure virtually nonexistent for various reasons. The destruction of the family structure caught in a continuing cycle. Kids trying to be adults and most of them not respecting the adults in the commu- nity. The adults labeling every young person a hoodlum and distancing themselves from the youth. Thatâs where the rift comes into play. The communication between the generations stops or is ineffective. The children arenât listening to the adults and the adults are not trying to hear what the youth has to say. Consequently, the rela- tionship between the generations deteriorated. So what you have is young people with a lack of respect and guidance and you have drugs. When you add guns to the equation, it equals violence. The violence produced the hostile atmosphere in the community. Fear gave the adults a legit excuse for distancing themselves from the youth and gave credence to the labeling of the youth. As a result the rift between the generations grew wider and wider and the scars of the community ran deeper and deeper. The severance of the community, the destruction of the family structure, and the loss of proper guidance for the youth, all contributed to the breakdown of the relation- ship between the generations. The breakdown between the generations left the youth without moral, emotional, or practical support, guidance, direction, or discipline. All of these factors contributed to the development of violence amongst the youth. adults in the community. The adults labeling every young person a hood- lum and distancing themselves from the youth. Thatâs where the rift comes into play. The communication between the generations stops or is ineffective. The children arenât listening to the adults and the adults are not trying to hear what the youth has to say. Consequently, the relation-
233WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? ship between the generations deteriorated.â114 See Box 7-2 for Jasonâs full analysis of this issue. This rupture between the generations can be considered a âphase transition.â115 This major alteration in the state of the social system dis- rupted not only the social relationships but also the means of communica- tion, creating a ânoisy channel,â that is, a social environment in which it was hard to be heard or understood. This drove the youth to create a ânewâ language, a language of behaviors that would enable the sending of messages of personal worth and efficacy. These new messages pro- vided the individual with the ability to be known, to be respected, to be taken seriously in a community that had lost the capacity to give its resi- dents a sense of their own worth and value using more conventional symbols, such as doing well in school, having a high-paying job, or doing well in sports. Extreme violent acts became an inevitable tool of this new behavioral language: the explosive noise of the gun could certainly be heard above the din of social disintegration. The Brief Career of the Violence Epidemic A remarkable aspect of the violence epidemic that hit East New York is the extent to which it has abated. Crimes of all kinds are down. In 1993 there were 129 homicides; as of June, only 10 homicides had been re- ported in 2001.116 Guns have been taken off the streets. People have emerged from their houses to begin to live in a new way. There are gains in the number of housing units. The speed and the momentum of the shift have startled observers and caused many to wonder how to explain the changes. Reverend Youngblood said of the Sumpter shooting that, as a man of God, âI have to look for the God factor. Maybe God allowed the violence to get out of hand so that we would finally pay attention to violence and young people.â Certainly, the school shootings of 1991â1992 shook the neighborhood and the city, and the response was intense and widespread. A number of reforms were implemented that surely helped redirect inter- actions among people and alleviate the burdens on the young. That said, it is important to consider the special effects of the violence epidemic on the cohort of young people that was reaching adulthood in those years. They saw enormous amounts of violence, and many directly experienced it. They lived in a social system that put enormous pressure on them to engage in violence, and to do so in relative isolation from helping adults. What are the ways in which these environmental forces may be expected to have shaped their well-being and their participation in adult life?
234 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Khalil Sumpterâs story is profoundly important as we consider these issues. Khalil, like many young men, committed a crime and was sent to prison. He was able to finish his high school education while there, but because of changes in the laws in the state of New York, access to higher education was denied him. He was able to learn a trade, becoming an accomplished cabinetmaker. On leaving prison he found himself in a new dilemma: prison, not skill, has been the deciding factor in his efforts to find employment. Although he is home in the technical sense of hav- ing been released from prison, he is not home in the more profound sense of being able to establish secure roots and a sense of belonging. Many young men of East New York are in a similar position. The current posture of society of permanently punishing those who have transgressed will multiply the effects of the violence epidemic for decades to come. Those who avoided serious prison time still suffer from the peculiar conditioning to âstand on your own two.â While most of America oper- ates on the principle âItâs not what you know, itâs who you know,â the youth of East New York operate on the basis of radical individualism. Much as they grew up in a fractured community, their sense of âIâ oper- ates to undermine the reformation of community, as well as the advance- ment of the self that can be accomplished only by interdependence. Finally, an enormous number of these valiant young people were traumatized and like Khalil Sumpter suffer from trauma-related emo- tional disorders. One 1994 study of East New York junior high school students found that 50 percent had symptoms related to trauma.117 The numbers would surely be higher for those born earlier who had lived through more of the violence epidemic. One man we encountered on the streets of the neighborhood talked about the violence he had experienced, lifting his shirt to show his scars. Tears formed in his eyes at the memory of the hostile and violent experiences he had endured. Nothing of any significance has been done to address the emotional distress that those young people are carrying with them as they begin their adult lives. Issues for the Future Everyone we interviewed was asked to compare the Jefferson shootings with other incidents of school violence in suburban and rural communities in the United States. Most took the widely publicized events at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, as their reference point, concluding that the youth at Jefferson faced real danger, while those in Colorado did not. They inferred that the Jefferson shootings had some justification, while those elsewhere resulted from some form of mental instability. In essence, everyone aware of the situation in East New York emphasized that the
235WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? shooting there occurred within the logic of the local culture, hence âmade sense.â Put another way, the East New York shootings were not âcrazy.â Khalil gave a great deal of thought to the issue. When we first talked, he was keenly aware of differences but pointed out a possible similarity. He commented, âI donât think [school violence] is anything to do with the area where the kids are living, whether itâs upper class areas or inner city ghettos. Thereâs pent up anger and pain which gets vented at the cost of somebodyâs life. A kid should have no problems coming to an adult and asking how they would handle it. Itâs good if you have people like that. But thatâs not always the case. Kids get into a certain age group when the values instilled by the parents, all that is out the window. A kid will react according to the laws of the peers. I donât think the areas have a lot to do with the situation. Some situations might be related to jealousy over a pair of sneakers. Itâs the situation that the kid is trying to handle on his own that leads to the violence.â After reading a draft of the case study, he wrote us a letter. He felt that he had expressed himself poorly in the interview and wanted us to have a clearer version of his opinion on this important matter: My situation was based on my belief that my life was in danger. I really donât know all the details of the other incidents but I will say this. Com- munication and expression comes in infinite forms. Some people do so in the form of casual conversation, some in the form of music and art, and unfortunately, some people in my generation choose to express themselves in the form of violence. The result in some instances can be fatal. In East New York there was an unwritten set of rules or codes that many people abided by, young black men in particular. I didnât make any of these codes, for lack of a better term, but the way of thinking for most young men was either abide by these laws or become consumed by them. As stupid as these laws are, that was the norm at the time. I guess in a nutshell people in inner-city ghettoes respect violence, so as a result people become it. It doesnât always take the form of a violent act. But people become potentially violent by carrying guns or living by these laws. We live in an age where youth find comfort among youth instead of adults, and where peers have the greatest influence among peers, i.e., sex drugs and dialect. Until thereâs a comfort zone where adults can feel what youth go through or understand their concerns or insecurities, youth will continue to express themselves in a violent na- ture. I sincerely hope that people learn from my experience. My reality is very ugly but hopefully it can give people insight as to whatâs going on in the minds of Americaâs youth. I wouldnât want anybody to face what I went through and what Iâm going through. The mantra of many young men is that you have to âstand on your own two,â as quoted in your report. But eventually you get tired of standing on your own two.
236 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Consequently, when people eventually do get tired in some cases, itâs too late. Letâs do our best to reverse that trend. Khalilâs thoughts are worth considering. The shootings at Jefferson were among the first of the decade of the 1990s. Other shootings in other places take other forms, but reiterate a common theme: the use of the gun as the great equalizer in situations youth perceive to be untenable. Whether the threat is to life or to mental well-being is less the issue than the perception that the threat is intolerable. Khalilâs emphasis on the need for an environment that fosters open communication is worth consider- ing, not only in urban schools, but also in any school affected by this generation gap. How might a different kind of environment have been created at Thomas Jefferson High School? Jefferson, in 1991â1992, was a massive high school, attempting to provide an education to 1,600 severely stressed young people. The school was not out of control at the time of the shootings, but it was not in control, eitherâin short, it was inadequate for the task it confronted. In a community where teenagers needed a massive amount of contact with adults, the school provided less than a minimum. This is not a fault of the principal, as the deficits lay far beyond anything she might have mustered from the Board of Education or private donors. It is an illustration of societyâs capacity to ignore the obvious. It took the desperation of Jason Bentley and Khalil Sumpter, trying to impose order on chaos, to bring some attention to the school. Even then, the attention focused on mechanical solutions, rather than human solutions. Principal Beck rated the retreats as contributing the most to an improved atmo- sphere in the school. That intervention cost $58,000, whereas the metal detectors that were installed everywhere cost $28 million. If schools are to be functional places, then investment in the creation of nonviolent communities is in order. But it is not enough to say to teenagers, as did Mayor David Dinkins, âYou must choose nonviolence.â It is absolutely necessary that adults make it possible for teenagers to live by rules of conduct that permit cooperation, sharing, and mutual respect and trust. Furthermore, adults, inside and outside marginalized commu- nities, must realize that youth will engage with adults only if they per- ceive that there is hope and a real promise for a future. CONCLUSIONS The shootings at Thomas Jefferson High School were among the first to capture national attention and contributed greatly to the public percep- tion of school safety and youth violence. At the beginning of this case study we cited the Thomas theorem, which holds that what one perceives
237WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? to be real is real in its consequences. School shootings are especially difficult phenomena to understand, and in searching for solutions one is often forced to distinguish between conflicting perceptions about what aspects of these tragic events are important and what aspects can or should be ignored. For example, are the shootings at Thomas Jefferson fundamentally and conceptually different from those at, say, Columbine because they occurred in a poor, minority, inner-city community? In this case study we have presented a great deal of evidence that East New York was an iso- lated, impoverished community whose social ecology was dramatically influenced by the crack epidemic and the ready availability of guns. We have argued that elevated levels of interpersonal violence created an at- mosphere of ever-present threat, particularly for adolescents. Young men growing up in this environment were forced to adopt attitudes and be- haviors that permitted them to live with this high level of threat and to respond to it appropriately. With guns so readily available and with shootings so commonplace, it was inevitable that carrying weapons and using them would be perceived as the most effective strategy to use in interpersonal conflicts. Schools occupy an almost sacred position in American culture. That the social ecology of the community would somehow penetrate the walls of a school and result in shooting fatalities is almost unimaginable to the average American adult. One can easily imagine the school as akin to the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages: a sanctum sanctorum that offered peace, security, safety, and refuge for all who entered. That schools would be the scene of violent death, perpetrated by adolescents with guns killing other adolescents, violates our most fundamental beliefs about schools as sacred places. The truth, of course, is that schools areâto the contraryâintricately and intimately a part of the social ecology of the community. Students are not magically transformed when they step through the doors of the class- room. The conflicts that arise between young people at home, in the streets, and in the classroom always carry the potential for violent, even fatal resolution. For such conflicts to be resolved peacefully, a number of conditions must be present. First and foremost, adults cannot be absent from the lives of the chil- dren in the community. Students in East New York during the period of the shootings believed that adults played no significant role in the resolu- tion of interpersonal disputes and conflictsâof the beefsâthat are so much a part of growing up. Our respondents were insistent on this criti- cally important fact: when threatened with violence, adults were simply irrelevant.
238 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE It is this perception that is at the core of the problem of youth vio- lence. The location of the violence is less important than the belief of so many young people that they are âon their own twoâ to create solutions. Thus, it is unrealistic to expect that schools would be spared the horrors of violent, at times fatal confrontations between young people, particularly in a nation with more than 200 million guns in the hands of private citi- zens. The miracle, in our view, is that there have not been more of them. East New York was therefore, in many respects, the harbinger of events to come. Rather than an isolated example of ghetto violence, it is emblematic of the growing divide between adults and young people, and of the irrelevance of the schools as community institutions with the capac- ity to assist in the resolution of these problems. It is also clear that schools must become more than buildings occupy- ing space in their communities. They must become active participants in after-school efforts to bring adults and young people together. Thomas Jefferson High School was overwhelmed by the ambient violence in East New York in 1991â1992. Its teachers and administrators were not particu- larly active participants in any of the community efforts to deal with and prevent this violence. This is not to fault them in any way: Americans have always believed that the proper place for school staff is in the schools, and Jeffersonâs personnel were engaged in the business of education. But as we write this report, we are also aware that times have changed. Many American adolescents perceive themselves to be in untenable situ- ations for which violence may offer the only way out. Many have the means to obtain weapons yet do not have the maturity or the capacity to avoid using them if the threat is perceived to be unbearable. In another age, adults had both the time and the ability to invest a considerable amount of time in assisting young people to mature into responsible, contributing members of the community.118 This investment, which social scientist James S. Coleman termed âsocial capital,â has gradu- ally eroded as adults become more and more involved in working and making money and have assigned more and more responsibility to the schools for socializing their children. This rift between adults, schools, and students must be repaired. There is a danger that the American people will demand that their legislators and their schools develop solutions to youth violence in gen- eral and to school violence in particular. The danger lies in the belief that bringing children to adulthood is the responsibility of social institutions. Schools do have a role to play, but that role must be viewed as a partner- ship between adults in the community and school staff, each of whom has a critical role to play in the lives of young people. Finally, adults in the community, not just parents, need to be more present in the schools. The roles that they can play there can be defined
239WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? and elaborated in each community where such efforts are undertaken. And school staff need to be more visible, more present in community activities and programs designed to affect the lives of young people. What must be avoided, in our view, is the belief that youth violence can be separated into two components: that occurring outside school and that occurring within it. It is this perception, more than any other, that ap- pears to be especially fraught with peril. At Thomas Jefferson and at other schools that have experienced fatal shootings, a beef from the streets came into the school. The solution, in our view, is to extend the bound- aries of the school. There have been numerous examples of school-community collabora- tions that have been effective in bridging the gap between adult and adolescent roles. These efforts have been funded by public and private foundations and are too numerous to list here. It suffices to note that they exist, and because they exist, societyâs task is to disseminate and adapt these interventions more broadly. Youth violence is not a new phenomenon. However, as it becomes increasingly prevalent in the nationâs schools, and as it becomes increas- ingly the object of public concern, our hope is that the will to translate concern into action will be born. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Without the help of many people, this challenging study could never have been completed in the time allotted. We are grateful, especially, to all the people who agreed to participate in interviews, many of whom went out of their way to provide us with documents, contacts, and other kinds of support. We owe special thanks to Theresa Hunt, at Community Board 5, who introduced us to the area, and to Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood, who opened many doors for us. Greg Donaldson and Sam Freedman were generous with their time and insights. Greg also gave us permission to use the map from his book to illustrate this case study. John Dunn, first deputy commissioner of the New York City Police Department, and Lester Wright, deputy commissioner/chief medical officer of the New York State Depart- ment of Corrections, provided enormous assistance in negotiating their respective systems. We are indebted to Reverend Youngblood, Greg Don- aldson, Stephen Teich, Lester Wright, Commissioner Patrick Carroll, Jason Bentley, and Khalil Sumpter for their feedback on earlier drafts. At our own institution, John Oldham, Jack Gorman, and Allan Rosen- field provided essential administrative oversight and support. Paul Pa- pagni and David Strauss helped us negotiate the institutional review boards. Richard Miller and Nancy Heim adapted Greg Donaldsonâs map for our use as an illustration and as the cover for the preliminary report.
240 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Administrators too numerous to list here ensured that all the day-to-day problems were resolved. We are deeply appreciative to all of them. Finally, we are grateful to Jason Bentley, Khalil Sumpter, and their families for talking to us about this most difficult period in their lives. Their generosity was fundamental to the success of our effort. NOTES 1Schmitz, Stevens, Feldman, and Fullilove, unpublished manuscript. 2Thomas and Thomas, 1928. 3Engel, 1980. 4Donaldson G., 1993. 5Freedman S.G., 1993. 6Sullivan M., 1981. 7OâConnor S., 1997. 8Atlas.ti, Scolari, 1995. 9This version of the story is Bentleyâs. Greg Donaldsonâs versionâthe only other detailed accounting we foundâoffers a different account of the source of the beef but corroborates both the impression of Jermaine and the course of events Bentley described (pp. 227â232). 10Fieldnotes. 11Fieldnotes. 12Reports of the events vary, including in such basic facts as the spelling of names and the reporting of ages. Daryl, for example, was called âDarrellâ in the original police report and in the first articles in The New York Times, but âDarylâ in later articles, as well as in Greg Donaldsonâs book. Other facts were inconsistently reported as well. The incident de- scribed here was referred to in a number of news articles as a âfight over a book bag.â By contrast, the thrust of peopleâs descriptions about life in East New York, the presence of guns, and the organization of the youth culture were highly consistent, despite variations in details of stories. 13Fieldnotes. 14New York Newsday, 11/26/91. 15New York Newsday, 11/26/91; Anderson returned to teach at Thomas Jefferson High School but was quickly given an unwanted transfer. When he asked why, he was told it was to avoid âthe wrong kind of celebrityâ (fieldnotes). 16New York Newsday, 11/26/91, cited âSince 1987, 50 of the schoolâs students have been killed or wounded near the Pennsylvania Avenue campusâ while The Los Angeles Times, 7/7/91, quoted Principal Beck as saying, âI have lost more than 30 children over four yearsâstabbed, primarily shot.â Donaldson reported that 75 students had died violently in the previous four years (p. 322). 17Los Angeles Times, 11/27/91. 18Time, 3/9/92. 19Fieldnotes. 20The New York Times, 11/30/91. 21The New York Times, 11/30/91. 22New York Newsday, 12/7/91. 23Donaldson G., p. 237. 24The New York Times, 12/2/91. 25Fieldnotes; Donaldson. Reports agree on the sequence of events and the relationship between Khalil and Tyrone. Khalilâs parents corroborated that there were phone threats,
241WHAT DID IAN TELL GOD? but the identity of the caller(s) was challenged at trial. There was no independent corrobo- ration that Tyrone fired shots at Khalil. 26Donaldson G., p. 144. 27New York Newsday, 2/28/92. 28There is some controversy about whether or not there were metal detectors in place at the school that day. Principal Beck had been hesitant to have them installed, even after the first shooting. According to several sources, there were no metal detectors at the school that day [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/91; NPR radio, 2/27/91; Bergen County Record, 3/1/92; fieldnotes]. There was general agreement that the presence of metal detectors would not have been an effective deterrent as there are 28 doors to the high school and no way to guard them all. 29New York Newsday, 2/27/92. 30Fieldnotes. 31St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/28/92. 32Fieldnotes. 33New York Newsday, 2/27/92. 34New York Newsday, 2/29/92. 35New York Newsday, 3/4/92. 36Fieldnotes. 37Ian had a nickname, E-Lo, signifying his membership in a gang called the LoLifes. He was memorialized in graffiti throughout the neighborhood which read, âR.I.P., E-Loâ (fieldnotes). 38Will My Name Be Shouted Out?, p. 290. Ian wrote this poem the year before he died on the occasion of his grandmotherâs death. 39New York Newsday, 3/4/92. 40Fieldnotes. 41Johnny Ray Youngbloodâs eulogy for Ian Moore. 42Johnny Ray Youngbloodâs eulogy for Ian Moore. 43Fieldnotes. 44Fieldnotes. 45Fieldnotes. 46Fieldnotes. 47Fieldnotes. 48Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 10/15/93. 49Fieldnotes. 50Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 10/15/93, p. 775. 51Fieldnotes. 52Fieldnotes. 53New York Newsday, 2/28/92. 54New York Newsday, 2/28/92; Time, 5/25/92; The [Manchester] Guardian, 9/7/92. It is not entirely clear what they meant by âimmediately.â 55New York Newsday, 3/2/92. 56New York Newsday, 2/28/92. 57New York Newsday, 2/28/92. 58Fieldnotes. 59Time, 5/25/92. 60Fieldnotes 61The New York Times, 3/3/92. 62Fieldnotes. 63NewYork Newsday, 2/25/93. 64NewYork Newsday, 2/27/92. 65New York Newsday, 2/28/92.
242 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE 66New York Newsday, 6/30/93. 67Trial record, pp. 783. 68Trial record, p. 793. 69Fieldnotes. More recently, the perception of danger was the basis for the successful defense of the police officers who fired 41 shots into the African immigrant Amadou Diallo. 70Trial record, p. 407. 71Trial record, p. 408. 72Trial record, p. 416. 73Fieldnotes; New York Newsday, 7/1/93. 74Trial record, p. 573. 75Fieldnotes. 76Trial record, p. 880. 77Trial record, p. 922. 78New York Newsday, 9/4/93. 79New York Newsday, 9/8/92. 80Wallace D., Wallace R., 1998. 81Rand, 1969. 82A health area is a geographic unit designated by the Health Department for the collec- tion of vital statistics. 83The New York Times, 12/2/91. 84Fieldnotes. 85New York Newsday, 4/23/91. 86Fieldnotes, New York Newsday, 4/23/91. 87New York Police Department statistics. 88Jacobs J., 1993. 89Donaldson G., 1993. 90Donaldson, p. 210. 91Notorious B.I.G., a rapper from Brooklyn, explained it in the song, âWhatâs Beef?â This was one of the last songs he wrote before being murdered in what some thought was a beef-fueled feud. 92Fieldnotes. 93Fieldnotes. 94Fieldnotes. 95Fieldnotes. 96Fieldnotes. 97Fieldnotes. 98Fieldnotes. 99Time, 5/25/92. 100The New York Times, 3/3/92 101Fieldnotes. 102Fieldnotes. 103New York Newsday, 11/25/91. 104Fieldnotes. 105Fieldnotes. 106The New York Times, 3/7/92. 107Fieldnotes. 108The New York Times, 3/3/92. 109Trial record, p. 416. 110Fieldnotes. 111The New York Times, 6/10/01. 112Wallace, R ., Fullilove, M. and Flisher, A., 1996; Wallace, R., Flisher, A. and Fullilove, R., 1997; Wallace, R. and Fullilove, R., 1999.
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