Elizabeth Ross, mother of Marckel Ross, the bright, promising, high school senior who was killed on his way to his Prince George’s school last
month, was one of fewer than 20 parents who showed up for a community meeting with police last week to discuss enhancing public safety. Her message was short and sharp.
“I cannot rest and I have not been sleeping because I always had this fear, since he’s been going here, that something was going to happen to my son,” she told the crowd of mostly elected school and council officials, law enforcement and clergy. She said she had talked with the principal and transportation authorities about the dangers of busing children from rival neighborhoods. She had told them about her son getting into fights. She had warned her son to be careful. She had sought help from a school mediator. No one had heeded her pleas – until now.
“I don’t want to see another parent out here saying they have to bury their son…so, whatever you all have to do, please do it, and please find the person that murdered my son, because he didn’t deserve this.”
As she spoke, I thought of my young nephew, as bright, joyful and promising as people had described Marckel. Having little street savvy, I did not fully understand the severity of the threats he faced going to and from school, nor did I have a clue about how to protect him. But family and neighbors who knew stepped up, and I understood clearly why it takes a village to raise — and protect — our youth.
“This has to stop. It’s not just about my son,” Ross said. “It’s about every parent in here. . . it’s just really, really sad and I think it has to stop.”
She was speaking in a room full of empty seats. Central High PTA president, Rodney Leonard, had noted the poor attendance. “It’s embarrassing,” he told me. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to get people involved.” He praised the school’s principal, who offers innovative and culturally enriching programs.
Principal Charoscar Coleman invited parents and the community to attend the Thursday evening meeting to discuss public safety lapses and the police’s need for more cooperation and communication from the public. But few came.
“People are busy working two and three jobs, right? They’re, uh, tired,” I suggested. He shrugged. He had arrived still wearing his postal uniform after work.
If a skinhead or a cop — of any race — had killed Marckel, the black community would have been up in arms — the way we were when Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. Cries from the young man’s family and neighbors in Prince George’s County would have been heard on black radio around the country. The outcry would have made the national news. We would have demanded justice and plans to protect our youth from such violence in the future. But, unable to blame a racist or a cop, we have been quiet.
If a skinhead or a cop had killed a child, community leaders who did show up would have been joined by throngs of citizens in a show of force demanding better resources for schools and police. It’s more likely for school districts to get additional funding for increased security and sufficient transportation – and maybe even bus stop monitors – if they can show 1,000 rallying residents demanding it rather than a mere handful. Every individual might not get to speak. Every single idea would not get heard. But a collective show of concern speaks volumes.
Maybe there’s a disconnect between the elected officials and officers of the law who showed up, and the community-at-large that didn’t. In private conversations, I’ve heard hints of such a disconnect, and at the community meeting a few residents openly stated as much.
Perhaps folks are fight-fatigued and all cried out. More than 500 had attended a wake and memorial service for Marckel. Hundreds had also attended memorial services for another student, Amber Stanley, who was killed a few weeks prior.
If we are weary because we’ve buried our youth by the dozens in past decades, it’s time to get our second wind.
Long-time community advocate Phil Lee called on the community and elected officials to rise to the challenge. He chided the school officials for failing to encourage innovation and community engagement at schools, and bid county officials to consider children’s safety part of their overall plans for county development.
“Council member. . .development is more than about buildings, because, the truth is, you’re never going to get the developers to come to Prince George’s County with children getting shot dead in the streets,” Lee said.
“The community has got to do more. It saddens me that this auditorium is not full,” Lee said. “Believe me, every police officer in this county is wondering how something like this happened. The police cannot be everywhere, at all times. But you all are. On every street in Prince George’s County, what is our biggest problem? You don’t come out. Criminals know what you’re going to do before you know what you’re going to do. And you know what they know best? They know you’re not going to come out and do anything about it.”
Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery is a contributing writer for The Root D.C. She is also author of “Little X: Growing Up in the Nation of Islam” and “Do Me Twice: My Life After Islam.” Follow her on Twitter @Sonsyrea.
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