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The Shooting of Alfredo Perez : A teacher of great promise is felled by a gangbanger's bullet

February 25, 1996

A teacher has been shot in the line of duty--in the school library, in front of his shocked fifth-grade students. That bullet has shattered the life of Alfredo Perez, and any perception that teachers and schoolchildren are safe on every campus. President Clinton addressed the school on Friday. This tragedy has resonated throughout the nation.

Perez, 30, was just the kind of teacher that the Los Angeles Unified School District needs in more classrooms. Bright, bilingual, committed, energetic, enthusiastic and hard-working, he demanded excellence from his children, most of whom were the sons and daughters of Mexican immigrants, as he was. He held high expectations for these young students.

He willingly taught in the inner city, although his UCLA degree probably allowed him other career choices. He wanted to make a difference--and he did, every day in the classroom. By his example, he proved to his students that they, too, could be achievers.

The bullet wasn't meant for Perez. He wasn't targeted for death. He was just doing his job when, according to police, two gang members standing on a corner near the campus saw a rival in a passing car. The gangbangers opened fire. One stray bullet sliced through the teacher's brain; another shattered a window and pierced a wall in a nearby classroom.

To prevent future tragedies, school officials want to install bulletproof windows. Mayor Richard Riordan has offered to pick up the $80,000 tab himself if necessary. Perhaps that will reassure other teachers worried that it could happen to them. Perhaps that will calm the frightened students who attend Figueroa Elementary School and their worried parents.

Sweeping the streets clean of guns and criminals must continue to be a citywide goal. The commitment to do that, along with appropriate outrage, was expressed on campus Friday by Riordan, Police Chief Willie L. Williams and Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. The police must be commended; two suspects quickly surrendered.

Stray bullets know no boundaries. What happened to Alfredo Perez must never happen again to any other dedicated teacher just trying to do his job.

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