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1,000 Gather to Address Outbreak of Gang Violence at Jefferson High

Principal tells audience that steps are being taken to prevent more brawls. Mayor Hahn says additional police will patrol the area.

April 22, 2005|Nicholas Shields | Times Staff Writer

Three days after the second racially and gang-motivated brawl at Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles, about 1,000 parents, students and community members crammed into the campus auditorium Thursday night to hear what district and city officials were going to do about the violence.

Principal Norm Morrow said he had taken several steps to avert future violence, including outlawing white T-shirts, which are considered common gang attire; scheduling two lunch periods instead of one to reduce the number of students in one place at a time; and bringing in counselors to facilitate discussions among the students regarding their differences.

"Our No. 1 priority is safety," Morrow said. "We need everybody's support in this audience to come together as a community and begin the process of working out the problems we presently have."

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn said more police will patrol nearby sites of gang activity.

"We are going to attack those sites," he said, "and make sure those routes to and from school are safe.... I want the only thing for our students to worry about here at Jefferson to be [whether they] have studied hard enough for that final."

School administrators had hastily called the meeting in the wake of two incidents on the campus within a week. Officials didn't know what caused the increased tensions.

Three students were hurt last week in a melee involving about 100 students. Then on Monday, more than 100 black and Latino students got into what officials acknowledged was a racially and gang-motivated brawl near the school's cafeteria at lunchtime. Six students were detained and two of them arrested. Another student suffered a broken hip.

"It's been an emotional week," Rowena Lagrosa, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District's Local Area 5, told the crowd. "I just want this to be a neutral place again."

Said Hafweezah Al-Uqdah, a 68-year-old Jefferson graduate whose children and grandchildren have attended the school: "This was not a fight that just happened -- our kids are here to learn."

Most speakers and audience members seemed to see Thursday's meeting as a step in the right direction. "It's very encouraging to see that people care about their children, their education and the community," said Angela Ridgway, 27, a resident of the neighborhood.

But she questioned whether increased law enforcement alone will solve the problem.

"All I keep hearing is about more police," Ridgway said. "What are the resources? You can't just add police."

Raul Preciado, president of the 2,400-member student body, expressed a strong desire for change. "It's very important that changes are made," he said. "I hope through meetings, we come to solutions."

Times staff writer David Haldane contributed to this report.

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