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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Safe at school — but nowhere else

Students at Excel Academy, an alternative school in Baltimore, have lost family, friends and classmates to gun violence. Photo: Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun

School is a safe haven from the streets, students at Baltimore’s Excel Academy tell Kevin Rector, a Baltimore Sun reporter. Seven students at the alternative school have been shot to death in the neighborhood in the last two years.

Many students have lost family members to street violence.

Deaundra Fisher said her older brother was killed about five years ago. She later witnessed the shooting of her young nephew. . . . Dajona Bass, an 18-year-old senior, said her father was killed when she was six months old.

The city is “a war zone,” said Arron Fleming, a 16-year-old junior, who once saw a shooting from a few feet away.

Students said they stay inside to be safe. They’re happy their school has a metal detector.

While they support better background checks for gun sales, the Excel students say most of the shooters in their neighborhoods buy guns illegally on the black market. The police must know where guns are sold, students say. They do.

They’ve watched the attention being paid to the Parkland shooting and the student leaders who have emerged, and think it is deserved. But they believe all the killing in Baltimore, and everything students go through emotionally in dealing with it, also deserves national attention. “People die in this city and a bunch of cities across the United States every day, and it all don’t make it on the news,” (Deon) Jones said.

Baltimore’s murder rate surged in 2017.

In Chicago, 18-year-old D’Angelo McDade hopes the focus on the Parkland shooting will help bring more attention to the violence in his neighborhood, writes Vikki Ortiz Healy in the Chicago Tribune. Last summer, he trained to help resolve conflicts. Then, “he, his grandfather and cousin were sprayed by bullets intended for others while sitting on the front porch.”

A senior at North Lawndale College Prep High School, McDade will lead a student walkout Wednesday to protest violence.

“We definitely stand in solidarity with the Parkland students and all the students who had to suffer from school shootings,” said Kofi Ademola, an organizer in the movement for Black Lives Matter Chicago. “But then I also have to wrestle with the contradiction that it seems that black and brown people aren’t as valued.”

Perspectives Charter Schools’ three Chicago campuses give students a chance to grieve for loved ones lost to violence, reports Ortiz.  Kray Butler, an 18-year-old senior,  is mourning the death of two cousins and an uncle killed by gunfire.

Thirty-eight Chicago children 16 and younger have been shot so far this year, reports the Tribune in Young Victims. Four died. In 2017, there were 246 young shooting victims, 38 homicides. “Since September 2011, at least 169 people under 17 have been killed in shootings and at least 1,620 people in that age group have been shot.”

Eric Juli, principal of a Cleveland high school, writes about a murdered student who “was far from perfect, as a student, and a young man.” Yet, “while many of his actions were wrong, dangerous, or illegal, he was at his core, a good person.”

He was in a gang as everyone in his neighborhood has to be in a gang. There isn’t really a choice. But he was also a son to a deaf mother, and a deaf and blind father. A was fluent in American Sign Language. He lived in a silent home, and he loved coming to school to be social and to engage out loud and engage he did; often extremely loudly. He was smart. He had huge gaps in his knowledge, as many of my students do, and he was way behind in his learning. But he was so intelligent. He had an amazing sense of humor. He made his friends and teachers both laugh out loud when they least expected it. He cared about people. . . . No matter what stupid thing he’d done, and there were plenty, he always told the truth. He was a peacemaker. He could resolve almost any conflict that occurred at school. He pulled people aside and mediated on his own, all the time.

There wasn’t much time for grieving and meeting with counselors, writes Juli. His traumatized students have to prepare for state tests.

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