More than 200 parents and residents who live near Friendly High School in Fort Washington attended a community meeting convened by Prince George’s County police Wednesday night to discuss the homicide of 16-year-old Marcus Antonio Jones. He was the fourth high school student killed in the county this school year. Information and tips from them and from eyewitnesses helped police arrest suspects sooner rather than later.
We should all be thankful that arrests have been made. The cases of two of the other slain students are still open, and we must stay on the police. Accountability, holding police responsible for allocating necessary resources and doing their due diligence, and community cooperation must go hand in hand.
I was happy that unlike the community meeting called by police after Markel Ross was killed, parents and community were out in full force this week. They shared their children’s fears. One parent tearfully told officials that her son has been threatened to join a gang at school. Police assured her they will work closely with her and her son. Another parent said her daughter and many other students are afraid to attend school.
A recently retired parent of two Friendly High graduates blasted police and school authorities. She worked as a security guard 17 years at Crossland High and found gang activity to be a big problem there and in other schools around the county. After work, on her way home to her house near Friendly High, she said that she has had to stop students from robbing fellow students and that she has broken up fights. But, she said, when she called the school for backup, and called police, she got no response — for 10 years. A police official later privately validated her complaint.
After the community meeting, Prince George’s public schools’ assistant director for security services, Rex E. Barrett, confirmed privately that in an unrelated incident Tuesday, police were called to Crossland High to arrest a young man with a gun. School security had entered a boys’ bathroom during a routine check. They smelled marijuana, frisked the young man and discovered a gun on him. The student was charged with possession of a firearm, and letters were sent to parents, Lynn McCawley, a school spokeswoman, confirmed.
Working together creates synergy. Police received information, and necessary community support led to arrests in the Jones case. It was the beginning of the kind of coopration police have been begging for to help solve crimes. Community leaders and school officials urged parents to help “change the culture” of non-cooperation with law enforcement. The black community had good reason to resist law enforcement in the past, when discriminatory laws were designed to disenfranchise and oppress African Americans. But that has changed, and we can adjust our attitudes and behaviors, too.
Friendly High PTSA President William Johnson, who also works as a substitute teacher there, pleaded: “You can convince your children that the stuff they see on TV about snitching is over. When a person commits a crime, they need to go to jail. The next time it could be them, if the killer gets away with it. Talk to your young people, even if they try to tune you out. Tell them it’s not cool to let somebody kill your friend.”
Parents and neighbors crowded in the seats around the cafeteria tables and stood along the walls as they heard police commanders, school officials and a state delegate express sadness, shock and outrage over the latest incident and tell of their determination to do better with help from the community. When it was their turn to speak, parents and neighbors expressed anger and willingness to help.
“All of us are hurting. This is loss for Friendly High School, but this is a loss for our whole community. We cannot tolerate the loss of our babies, and that’s essentially what happened here,” Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks told the crowd. “He was a baby to his family, but he belonged to all of us.”
By the end of the evening, Friendly High Principal Raynah Adams IV had received enough information in side conversations to confirm reports of plans for retaliation at a football game scheduled for Friday at Friendly. He said he would cancel the game or restrict attendance to parents only. At a news conference held Thursday at police headquarters to announce arrests in the Jones killing, Adams told of an intense effort to match students with mentors and engage them in structured activities. Organizations including Men Aiming Higher, Save Our Youth/Racing 4 Life and Patriots will work with students at the school.
“A shift in culture has to occur,” said school board member Edward Burroughs III (D-District 8). “You cannot legislate a strong, supportive home environment. Ultimately, it’s important that churches and nonprofits work with families. The school system can do so much, the county government can do so much, police can do so much. . . . It’s important to recognize the role families play raising a community, a generation that’s safe.”
Montgomery is a columnist for TheRootDC.