Two high school students shot to death within a month signals an
emergency, I think. But who in Prince George’s County has the community cache to sound the alarms and rally the community to the defense of its children?
Marckel Norman Ross, who ran track and dabbled in modeling at Central High School, was shot to death on his way to school Monday, according to reports in The Post. On Aug. 22, Amber Stanley, a Charles H. Flowers High School senior and aspiring doctor, was killed in her Kettering home. Let’s say the madness stops here.
Prince George’s police are investigating the shootings, and parents are fearing for the children’s safety. Civic associations, churches and community organizations have the capacity – and hopefully the compassion – to help, to heed their children’s needs for safety. But who can coordinate them?
I’m not talking about Rev. Jesse Jackson calling on a “Take Back Our Streets” march through the neighborhood where Amber was shot, or Minister Louis Farrakhan convening a Million Parent March around Prince George’s police or schools headquarters to demand more police protection and engagement around communities heavily populated with children. I’m thinking of more coordinated, sustainable efforts by caring adults determined to be a force of protection for the county’s youth and to address deep-rooted systemic breakdowns that leave children criminally inclined — or vulnerable to the criminally inclined.
“Clearly we are at a crisis. It is time when there should be a clarion call for our clergy to come out of their pulpit, elected leaders to come out of their offices, and our elders to come out of their rocking chairs and go into the streets where our children are and engage them,” Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant said in an interview Wednesday.
“It’s time for our pastors to say to Mr. Ford, Mr. Harris, Mr. Pierre, ‘Instead of helping with my fish fry this week, I really need you all to go out and monitor the bus stops and take care of our children,’ ” Grant added. Grant also suggests relationship-building to help protect youths. “We want to be careful that we don’t get caught up in symbolism,” Grant said. “We’re talking sustainable relationships, so you can ask brothers and sisters and elders to stand at the bus stops. They should have that kind of relationship where they can call out an army in a crisis. That’s what leaders are supposed to do.”
According to county council member Karen R. Toles, who represents the 7th District where Ross was killed, county schools have long had an engaged police officer stationed at each high school, talking to students, identifying and addressing conflicts before they erupt in fatal violence. When Toles gets calls from her constituents about conflicts brewing, she will call for increased police surveillance in a particular area, she said.
Obviously, more needs to be done. “At this point, we don’t know what happened. So it’s hard for us to say what else can be done,” Toles said. “It’s always our goal to make things better, but we have to find out what happened, we have to find out what’s going on so we can do the best things to increase public safety for everyone.”
Councilman Derrick Leon Davis of District 6 found students more shocked and hurt than afraid for their safety when he visited Central High School after the shooting. Without characterizing the loss of two students as a crisis, he said he urges communities to pull together and work with police and elected officials to address problems as they occur. “We just have to make sure we’re all working together and bringing to justice perpetrators threatening our community safety,” Davis said. “We have to band together. We have to stick together as a community.”
Two years ago, when a weather crisis found the entire Washington region bound by a couple feet of snow, then-candidate for county executive Rushern Baker successfully rallied county residents to help dig themselves and their neighbors out of cul-de-sacs that trucks could not reach. This crisis of violence among youths also will take a community effort to surmount. Prince George’s residents are some of the most community-minded folks I know. I’m sure they’re up to the task. But who can coordinate them to protect the youths?
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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