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AROUND THE SOUTH BAY

Drugs and dealers surround the students of Morningside High School

September 18, 1986

To hear 18-year-old Adrena Prosser tell it, drug dealers are by no means strangers at Morningside High School or on nearby residential streets.

"Inside the school, around this whole environment, it's the in thing to do," said Prosser as she stood outside the Inglewood school the other day. Prosser graduated last spring and had come back to visit a friend.

"Look, that's the perfect example right there," Prosser said moments later as a late-model mauve Cadillac with spotless chrome wheels slowly trolled through the school's parking lot, to the dismay of two security guards. One of the two occupants was speaking into a cellular phone.

"They are easy to spot," said Toni Vample, 17, a senior at the school. "It's not like they are trying to hide it." Besides driving expensive cars and wearing expensive clothes, dealers often wear electronic beepers so they can be paged by suppliers or customers, she said.

"I know some people who are younger than we are that are selling," said 16-year-old Jerlon Burton, a junior at Morningside. "Seventh- or eighth-graders. It don't make sense."

Morningside is next to the Dixon-Darby and Lockhaven neighborhoods, which until a recent crackdown were viewed by police as the most notorious in the entire city for drug dealing. Police Lt. James T. Butts described the area as an "open carnival" for buyers and sellers before the police effort started last Memorial Day.

But despite the stepped-up enforcement, students interviewed this week said they are still routinely offered drugs off campus.

And some were not impressed by the anti-drug crusade launched in recent days by Congress and President Reagan. A few did not even recall the name of Len Bias, the basketball star whose cocaine-induced death helped spark the furor.

Those who had heard about the anti-drug proposals offered a variety of opinions, ranging from nonchalant dismissal of the measures as meaningless to blaming Reagan for the drug problem to begin with.

Pia Jackson said one of the proposals, which was passed by the House and calls for mandatory life imprisonment on a second conviction for selling drugs to a child or teen-ager, is wrong. "Many of these people selling drugs come from broken homes and many of their mamas have been on drugs," the 17-year-old senior, said. "It's an easy way to make money."

Asked what he thought of Reagan's speech last Sunday night, sophomore Bryan Bryant replied, "I saw his face and I turned the channel. It's his fault (there is a drug problem) because he has cut everybody off," he said, referring to social program cutbacks by the Reagan Administration. Bryant said he does not deal drugs, but "I'd do it if I didn't have any money."

"It's just a bunch of talk to me," Vample said of the President's proposals. "I think he wants to do something, but it won't work."

Prosser, however, said she agrees with Reagan that tougher measures are needed. So did James Booker, a 17-year-old senior. At Morningside, he said, security should be beefed up and and student lockers should be searched randomly for drugs.

Evlyn Mainor, a health and ecology teacher at Inglewood High School who stopped by Morningside to visit Principal Jerri Martin, said she admired the President for attempting to curb drugs. "I think it is a pretty good stab at trying to solve the problem," she said. Mainor said she is very concerned about her sons, now 7 and 11.

"People say, 'Your sons are young now, you don't have to worry about it,' " she said. "But I do."

Despite the availability of drugs, some students say they have no problem avoiding them. Booker, for example, said he has been approached on his way home from school and asked if he wants to buy drugs. He said he never has.

"All you have to do is tell them you're not a smoker and keep right on going," he said.

Jose Chavarria said his response to a drug seller is to simply say "no thank you"--the same advice offered by Mrs. Reagan when she appeared on television with the President on Sunday.

Although Chavarria said he recalls some drug selling on the Morningside campus last year, he has not witnessed any this year. "Actually there is no problem here at Morningside," he said.

Butts said that since police began their citywide crackdown last May, officers have made nearly 1,000 arrests, the overwhelming majority for cocaine possession. Of the arrests, 39% were made in a 20-square block area near the school.

"It was generally a no-man's land," Butts said. "We had a lot of parents who would pick their kids up because they didn't want them walking by there " on their way to school, he said.

Principal Martin said school officials are painfully aware of problems in the neighborhoods near the school. On the school campus, however, problems with drugs are rare, she said.

"As soon as I say that, something will prove me differently," Martin said. "I'm just saying it's not evident."

Martin said that although she believes that school administrators should do everything they can to educate students about the dangers of drugs, she personally is against mandatory drug testing of students or locker searches unless there is reason to believe there is a problem.

Security guards hired by the district to patrol the school's grounds said drug peddling in front of the school or in its parking lot has not been a problem this year. Nevertheless, they say it is not uncommon to see some dealers cruising the street in front the school and peddling on nearby streets.

"All you need is a pair of binoculars and go sit in a classroom," said one guard who did not wish to be identified. "You can sit and watch them."

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