Yes, they’re scared.
They’re scared they have to look over their shoulders now. They’re scared the bullets can find them anytime, anywhere, even if they play by the rules. And they’re scared that they live among peers who have no conscience, no sense of right and wrong.
Prince George’s County has counted its sixth high school victim of gun violence this school year. Six students in six months shot over nothing more than a pair of shoes or an argument.
If six kids were shot dead in a school in a rampage by a single shooter, the world would be all over it, picking apart the shooter’s Facebook page and Twitter feed, delving into the parents’ marriage. We’d hear those calls for better gun control, advocacy for mental illness, questions about the impact of violent video games and movies.
But other than a vigil and the formation of a county task force to look into the killings, there was little outrage or acknowledgment that this is not normal. Six kids just shouldn’t be shot during the school year, while the rest of their classmates go about the business of ordering yearbooks and picking a homecoming theme.
Isn’t it scarier that rather than one, unhinged shooter, there are at least six?
It’s been a tough week in Prince George’s County. A father and two of his little girls were killed in a Glenarden house fire early Thursday morning, and an Oxon Hill toddler died in a car accident after being struck by the family car. Those deaths come on top of the student shootings and seem just as senseless. Why? For what?
At Suitland High School, which lost two of its 2,400 students to off-campus gunfire this week, many of the kids come from working-class African American families. They take the bus because they don’t go to the kind of school where the student parking lot is packed with four-wheeled, 16th-birthday presents. But most didn’t grow up on streets with rat-a-tat gunfire and police helicopters thwack-thwack-thwacking all night. They normally put most of their energy into worrying about tests, college applications or trade school admission dates, not the possibility of being gunned down.
“I keep listening to what my grandparents say,” said Damone Turner, who is 15 and plays basketball at Suitland.
His grandparents help him avoid bad influences, he said. They tell him to study hard, work hard, stay out of trouble. But before all this, they didn’t have to keep telling him to watch his back while walking down the street.
“Now, after that incident, I’m looking over my shoulder, watching my back,” Damone said. “You just never know.”
He was thinking of his classmate, 15-year-old Charles Walker Jr. — known as “CJ” or “Chuck” — who was shot dead Monday by one of five young men who allegedly tried to rob him of a pair of Timberland boots he was carrying in a shopping bag, right after he bought them for his girlfriend.
After Walker, it was Aaron Kidd, an 18-year-old student at Suitland High, who was killed in a Forestville apartment complex Tuesday. Another 18-year-old died in that shooting too.
“It was five the day before and all of a sudden it’s six. And that’s just wrong,” said Jasmine Burris, who is 17-year-old senior at Suitland. She said she now can’t wait to graduate and move on the college.
The mood at school this week was somber, Jasmine said. She could feel it, in the hallways and in the classrooms. The kids knew what was up.
“I hate to say it, but I think it’s cultural,” Jasmine said. “There’s something going on that’s sad. We’re a generation that has to set an example, and here people are acting up, solving things with violence.”
“Shoot first, ask questions later,” a friend added.
Or really, don’t ask questions at all.
The thing that really bothered most of the kids I talked to after school the other day was the sudden nature of the violence. The kids I talked to all said things like “I just saw CJ on the train the day before” or “He was sitting right next to me in class. Right next to me last week.”
And now, he’s gone.
After the fifth killing, Prince George’s County officials formed a task force to try to find a solution to the problem. And it’s a tough one, because the six killings are all unrelated, unconnected acts of violence in a time when violent crime in the county and much of the rest of the country is down.
But as far as the shootings go, it’s not a mystery to Tyra Williamson, an 18-year-old senior who wants to join the Navy. “It’s about time they saw what we’re seeing,” Tyra said. Her crowd was friends with Marckel Ross, an 18-year-old junior who was fatally shot Sept. 11 while walking to Central High School.
“He was good. And I’m not just saying regular good. He was a really good person. And all he was doing was walking to school,” she said.
Her theory is that there are a few kids who still don’t get it. Who listen to music and watch movies and think that’s real life, that’s the way you do things: violence, flash, guns.
“I think people don’t realize how much violence is out there influencing people. That they do this kind of stuff to try and impress,” said Tyra’s friend Rayonte Harris, a 17-year-old senior who plans to go to cosmetology school.
And then I met the kid who isn’t scared.
“I ain’t afraid. Nothing’s going to happen to me,” he said after I asked him whether he felt unsafe. He said he was 14, didn’t want to give me his name and said he felt nothing for the kids in his school who were killed.
That kid? That’s the one I’m scared for.
Follow me on Twitter at @petulad. To read earlier columns go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.