A need detected

Many city students say they would approve of metal detectors in schools

December 12, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun reporter

It's about not getting shot.

After recent killings in churches and a mall out West, and a history of urban violence closer to home, many students in Baltimore public schools yesterday welcomed the announcement that metal detectors might be installed at the entrances to their schools.

"There's a whole bunch of gang-affiliated stuff around here," Micole Holley, 15, a sophomore at Reginald F. Lewis High School in Northeast Baltimore, said as she arrived for classes with three friends. "Someday, someone is going to collide with someone else, and you don't want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Any kind of safety procedure we have to take, if it's necessary, is good."

Bearing in mind that some students come from troubled families, Micole said, "Who knows what kind of thing they might have gone through at home to make them come here and take it all out? I'd rather stop it here than start it."

The children's comments came a day after city schools chief Andres Alonso said he supports allowing principals to install metal detectors in middle and high schools, as long as there is community support for the idea.

Some students, however, were not so sure and considered the detectors an invasion of privacy.

"We don't bring guns to school," said Shareva Gray, 17, a sophomore at W.E.B. DuBois High School, in the same complex as Lewis. "This is one of the best schools."

Shareva acknowledged that some students had been suspended last year for fighting, but she said that, generally, members of opposing gangs "co-exist" peacefully. Alonso's plan, she said, impinges on the students' sense of independence.

"It's not just up to the principal," Shareva said. "It's the whole student body."

In their former incarnations, Dubois and Lewis were one entity, Northern High School, the city's largest and perhaps most chaotic educational institution until it was split up in 2002 in an attempt to bring its students and classrooms under control. Ten years ago, the school's principal suspended nearly 1,200 of Northern's 1,800 students in a bid to end disruptive behavior.

Delores Berry, the DuBois principal, refused to comment yesterday on the possibility of metal detectors at the school. She and other administrators have until Dec. 19 to decide whether to allow the machines. In the case of schools like Dubois and Lewis that share a campus, both principals must agree to install the detectors before the school district will give a go-ahead.

Some students at both Dubois and Lewis said they did not think the devices are necessary, even though they complained of gang activity in the schools. There are members of the Bloods, Crips, Purple City and Slime Bags gangs, they said, and sometimes there are fights.

At Lewis, Micole's friend Alexandra Payne, 15, thought the devices were a fine idea. "You could get stabbed or shot, all because they don't have metal detectors," she said.

A few feet away, her schoolmate Webbie Williams, 18, said the killings at Columbine High School in 1999, among the deadliest school shootings ever, could have been avoided had metal detectors been installed. At Lewis, he said, "they don't even pat nobody down."

"Everything could be normal, and then suddenly someone could burn up the school, shoot up the school," Williams said.

His friend Kevin Jackson, 17, said the primary issue should be the students' safety. With detectors, he said, "at least we'd know if someone had a gun."

Parents dropping their children off at the school complex seemed to agree.

"It's a good idea," said Emmanuel Nzeadighibe, whose 18-year-old daughter, Ugochi, attends DuBois. "I'm concerned, not afraid. It takes only one moment for one kid to turn things around."

Another parent, Bruce Woolfolk, who had just taken his son Tavon, 15, to Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, said metal detectors should be standard equipment in schools.

"A lot of things go undetected," Woolfolk said, suggesting not only weapons but also the emotional scars that lead some troubled people to commit random crimes.

"That kid in Omaha had a lot of depression," he said, referring to Robert A. Hawkins, who shot and killed eight people last week in a Nebraska mall.

In the back seat of Woolfolk's car sat his daughter Vaneeda, 14, whom he was about to drop off at Doris M. Johnson High School on St. Lo Drive in Northeast Baltimore. She had no problem with getting scanned for weapons.

"I'm all right with it," she said, "because I don't carry nothing on me anyway."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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