Melee outside school leaves nerves on edge at Douglass

September 17, 1993|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff Writer Staff writer Robert Hilson Jr. contributed to this article.

At Frederick Douglass High School yesterday morning, popping sounds resembling gunfire echoed through the halls, and everybody assumed the worst. Students and teachers shuddered and gasped. Within hours, parents started calling Principal Shirley T. Hill's office, wondering who had fired a gun and whether anybody had been shot.

No, the principal patiently told each caller, nobody fired a gun in the school, nobody has been shot. Somebody set off firecrackers.

Rattled nerves, frantic parents, a rumor circuit on overdrive -- these are measures of the anxiety at the school two days after 300 teen-agers brawled across the street in a Mondawmin Mall parking lot after school ended.

"No child can learn in an atmosphere of fear," said Mrs. Hill, who began her career in city schools as a teacher 30 years ago and has been principal at Douglass for three years. "We had a pretty good record. That's why it's so upsetting because we're starting the school year this way."

As dozens of city and school police officers patrolled the area around the campus at 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway for a second day yesterday, Mrs. Hill acted quickly to try to make sure the violence stayed outside the doors of the three-story brick school with white arches on the windows.

Between phone calls, she wrote a letter telling parents that nobody had fired a gun and urging them to attend an emergency meeting at the school at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Parents, clergy and community leaders will be asked to help quell the unrest at the school.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Hill gathered the students in the auditorium, spoke of Douglass' rich tradition and told them, "We are a family. We look out for each other; we care for each other; we're in the business of learning, and everybody's here to learn."

Mrs. Hill, like the school and city police, said many, if not most, of the 300 teen-agers involved in Tuesday's melee were not Douglass students. But she conceded that some students from her school jumped in.

Two students received disciplinary removals for their involvement, and a ninth-grader was arrested yesterday after throwing an orange juice bottle at a police lieutenant and a photographer near the mall.

The fighting, which police and students described as a product of a rivalry between two neighborhood groups, drew 100 police officers to quell the brawlers, who were armed with an array of weapons, including 5-foot-long steel poles, slabs of wood and knives.

City police reported no gunfire Tuesday but arrested four juveniles on handgun-possession charges, and a 19-year-old, who police thought was a nonstudent, suffered superficial neck wounds from a stabbing.

Students and school police said the brawl stemmed from a fight Friday between members of "R and G," for Reisterstown and Gwynns Falls, an intersection near the school, and "the Whitelocks," for Whitelock Street, in Reservoir Hill about 12 blocks away.

Many anxious parents showed up to pick up their children yesterday, as they had Wednesday.

Larry Lonon, a 40-year-old cook in a seafood restaurant, left work five hours early to pick up his son, Terver, and daughter, Sherry.

Standing in the drizzle on steps near the school, he said, "I don't want my kids getting hurt with all these guns, knives around. You step on somebody's toe or look at them the wrong way, you get stabbed or you get shot. It just don't make sense."

Shelly Marshall, a 16-year-old 10th-grader, shared the fears, saying she was worried that the violence would spill over into the school itself.

"I always worry now what's going to happen," she said. "The teachers are nervous, too. Nobody knows what's going to happen."

And William Shields paused on his way to football practice and offered a warning: "They got to stop all this violence. I'm just sick of it. Too many guns and too many knives. All these people are going to be homeless, drunks, winos or in jail or in graves."

Others wondered whether the violence would ever subside in the neighborhood, where gunshots ring out regularly and drug dealers own some corners.

Claudette Wilson, 35, the mother of 4-year-old twins Matthew and Nicole, strolled past the school just before the 3 p.m. dismissal on her way from work to her nearby home.

"Somehow," she said, "I've got to teach them to walk away, not to follow the crowd, not to join in, or they're going to follow them to the grave."

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