Talk Won't Stop A Predatory Gang

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I naively expected that last week's column about youth gangs preying on students at the Friendship Collegiate Academy on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast would bring some relief for kids who, with parents and devoted teachers, are doing their best to learn. Before writing the column, I had visited the school twice, observed a police presence both times, and concluded that D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier's assurance to me that her department was on the case was enough.

I deluded myself, forgetting that when it comes to people who work for the District government, they are speakers and hearers, not doers, of the word.

Case in point: a Thursday e-mail from Friendship Charter School board chairman Donald Hense with the challenge: "This is not a problem to ignore."

Hense's e-mail included a chilling message received from Friendship Collegiate Academy's principal, Peggy Pendergrass. Her subject was the 37th Street Crew, a gang that is menacing the student body.

She wrote:

"25-30 male students, 37th street male members were present at dismissal. They were moved off of the school property by the Deans of Students. They jumped a quiet 9th grade student who didn't see it coming. The student was with two other quiet small 9th grade students. A new assigned cop to this location was standing outside and didn't move at all as the gang of guys moved. Mom is on her way to the school. The young man, [name deleted] is in the ambulance getting ready to be transported to the hospital.

"We now believe that gang initiations are happening. Please note that my team and I presently feel very helpless in keeping our students safe."

Hense added, "The mission of Friendship Public Charter School is to provide a world-class education that motivates students to achieve high academic standards, enjoy learning and develop as ethical, literate, well-rounded and self-sufficient citizens who contribute actively to their communities."

Friendship is keeping its part of the bargain.

What about the rest of the city, especially those elected leaders comfortably situated downtown in their well-guarded Wilson Building? Where are they when D.C. kids, doing their best to live and play by the rules, are getting their butts kicked by young criminals? Oh, yes, the part in Pendergrass's message about "gang initiations are happening" refers to what it takes to join a gang like the 37th Street Crew. The way to join some gangs is to fight your way in. With others, initiation might require committing a crime with a gun. In this case, gang initiation seems to require beating up a kid found guilty of attending Friendship Collegiate Academy.

But Friendship isn't the only school being challenged by what is happening on D.C. streets.

Consider the experience of the Gannon Center for Higher Achievement on Eighth Street NE. This week, in response to my request, Abigail Cohen, the center's community outreach coordinator, sent this e-mail, which I have excerpted:

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