Tuesday, January 18, 2011

By Diana L. Chapman
The kid who brought the gun to Gardena High School Tuesday morning and “accidentally” shot two students might have any of these situations surrounding his life:
He might have been bullied and brought the gun for protection.
He might have brought this big, bad revolver to show off.
He might have carried the gun to stave off gangs after school.
Ironically, Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Pat Gannon said the 17-year-old who toted a gun on campus in his backpack was not “hardcore,”  had no gang affiliations and was filled with remorse that his gun had gone off accidentally shooting two students with one bullet.
Gannon, having talked with the media all day long since the shooting around 10:30 a.m., said police consider the incident accidental because witnesses' views collaborate the suspect's statements. He apparently dropped his backpack down, which appeared to slam the hammer hard enough for the gun to go off, Gannon said. The bullet then ripped through the neck of a 15-year-old boy and slammed into the head of a 17-year-old girl, the deputy chief explained.
The suspect “has been very cooperative and his mother has been cooperative,” Gannon said. “There’s a lot of remorse. He’s just telling us what he did and how he did it and why he did it. He said he didn’t feel threatened at school.”
Although there were television reports the student was homeless, Gannon said officers were easily able to reach his mother at her Compton residence. The student had one fight in the past, possibly at another school, and was on probation for that, Gannon explained. He was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon.
What Gannon says is hard to understand is why the suspect brought the gun onto campus in the first place.
But whatever the 17-year-old’s reasons , it shows once again how we’ve failed our kids all the way around. Now we have one 15-year-old girl with a gunshot wound to the temple in critical condition and a 15-year-old boy with a neck wound in serious condition at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
Gardena High, with a 36 percent dropout rate and past clashes over racial tensions, immediately took a beating on talk shows. The Los Angeles Unified school board declared the sprawling school with some 3,100 plus students as a “public school choice,” about a 1 ½ years ago.
That meant outside agencies could have vied to take it over, but not a single organization offered to run the campus, one of the physically largest in the school district.
Today, on talk shows, the school was taking a beating. KFI talk show host, John Kobylt, said “we ought to bulldoze that school” and that parents should be smart enough to move out of the area.
I feel differently.
We can all sit around and clamor about how terrible Gardena High is and how it’s all the school officials fault – and maybe part of that’s true.
But in my book, we are all at fault. This same situation could have happened on any campus at any time as we first learned on April 20, 1999 when two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who were often bullied, sprayed bullets all over the Colorado campus in a middle-class enclave. They killed 12 students, one teacher, and injured 21 others.
Repeatedly, we have been warned that bullying is a common denominator at every school  no matter the economic background. It penetrates private schools, rich schools, poor campuses – and even colleges. And yet, we’ve still done nothing really to deter or resolve it.
What can we do? Here are some suggestions for schools and the community at large:
--Train – and I mean train – volunteer parents and community members to add additional supervision on campuses. Allow some volunteer parents to act as student advocates where they can come and report their troubles so they can be steered  to the right resources either at the school or off-the –campus. Later a news station reported the 17-year-old was homeless. This might have factored into his problems.
--Understand that parents must – and I mean MUST  – return to schools whenever possible in as many capacities as possible, helping with fundraisers, volunteering for tutoring, aiding in yard supervision, doing clerical work – no matter whether their child is in kindergarten or high school.  The more adults around, the safer a campus will be.
--Large urban school campuses should work directly with gang intervention workers and have them come to school to talk with students. They know more than we do, and can get students to tell them more than we can. They are only typically called in when there’s an emergency – instead of being on board to prevent them.
 Recently, Gannon commended several gang intervention workers and their organizations publicly for dramatically reducing crime in Los Angeles. If all a parent does is raise funds to bring intervention workers to school, then they’ve added to the solution.
--For once, parents and administrators need to come together to map out plans about how such emergencies should be handled. To tell parents not to come to school to pick up their children in such a crises is ludicrous. The minute I hear something like this happens at my son’s school, I can assure you I’ll be jumping in my car and speeding to get there.  So will most parents. Instead, parents and school administrators should come up with a plan where parents can wait at an area near the campus while school officials and police can keep them informed and children will be released when possible.
Life and death situations happen at schools. They are small cities. Students get sick. Students bully or get bullied, tease or get teased and hurt each other mentally – if not physically. Crimes happen.
The only way to solve this is for parents, administrators, school police, students, Los Angeles police, and community volunteers, to come together to avoid these catastrophes.
Most of all, we need to quit burying our heads in the sand, pretending it won’t happen again. History shows us one thing clearly  -- it will.