Douglass asks community support Troubles blamed on outside world

September 23, 1993|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff Writer

In some of the neighborhoods near Frederick Douglass High, youthful drug dealers take over street corners each night, and gunfire pierces the air routinely.

Continual bloodletting in nearby areas weighed on the minds of about 125 people who gathered in the school's auditorium last night in search of ways to keep the violence from spilling over into the school.

School administrators, alumni and parents recalled Douglass' heritage as one of the city's pre-eminent black high schools and said media coverage of a brawl across from the school last week has tarnished its name unfairly.

Principal Shirley T. Hill and others spoke of preserving the heritage and the hope and of steering a new generation of young blacks to greatness and away from prison cells, poverty and graves.

"What we're trying to do is teach these children to rise above the violence," Mrs. Hill said.

Mrs. Hill, principal for three years, pointed out that the school itself, though drawing from some of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, has been spared bloodletting inside its walls.

Others said that the communities near the school at 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway must band together to help steer teen-agers away from violence and drugs.

"We need the community. We need the Police Department. We need the elected officials," said 4th Ward Democratic City Councilwoman Agnes B. Welch.

"We need everybody here to come together to quell every kind of fear. This is not a thing that is happening at Douglass High. This is something that's happening in the community. We have to bring the community together so it doesn't happen again," she said.

Despite reassurances, some parents said they still feared for their children's safety.

"My daughter doesn't even want to come back here because of the trouble at this school," said Geneva Strange, mother of an 11th-grader. "What if somebody got in here and brought the violence with them? It's right outside there."

State Del. Tony E. Fulton, a Baltimore Democrat, said, "We can't do it alone. I can't be the mother and the father and the grandfather of each student."

The meeting was called in response to a brawl last week across from the school in a Mondawmin Mall parking lot, where 300 teen-agers -- members of rival neighborhood groups -- battled with steel poles, wood slabs and knives, according to school police and witnesses.

More than 100 officers from the city, school, Mass Transit Administration and mall police forces converged on the brawl. City police arrested four juveniles on handgun-possession charges.

Police and school officials said that few of those involved were Douglass students. Two students have been disciplined for participating in the brawl. The day after the clash, police arrested a ninth-grader for allegedly hurling a glass bottle at a city police officer and a photographer.

In a separate incident Monday, a senior was arrested by school police who allegedly found a 9 mm handgun loaded with 14 rounds of ammunition tucked in his pants minutes after he had been ordered removed for repeatedly missing classes.

On Tuesday, a "breakthrough team," a new four-member crisis-intervention team that will work throughout the system, took on the Douglass situation -- its first job.

The team -- an administrator, a minister and community leaders -- rTC said that the school should expand mentorship and conflict resolution programs , bring in alumni to work with children and offer incentives to students who perform well.

But City Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III renewed his call this week for random checks with hand-held metal detectors at Douglass and other city schools to "send a very strong message that the school system will not tolerate weapons or violence."

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