By Julie Scharper and Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun
6:18 PM EST, December 1, 2012
Students drawn to Morgan State University's strong academics and historical legacy are finding that crime is becoming an increasing distraction, and are joining a state lawmaker and alumnus in calling for better security to protect the institution's reputation.
The latest incident took place Friday. Baltimore police said a 20-year-old man who is not a student at Morgan shot a lineman on the university's football team as students wound down the last day of classes before fall-semester finals.
Police have charged Keith Robertson of the 4900 block of G. St. SE in Washington with attempted first-degree murder and handgun charges in the case. Roberts gave a confession related to the incident, police said Saturday, but they would not elaborate.
The student shot in the torso is 19-year-old Tyrell Okoro, a popular student from Queens New York, said Morgan spokesman Clinton R. Coleman Jr. It is not clear why Robertson was on campus or whether he knew Okoro.
The shooting came less than three months after a teenager visiting his cousin, also a football player, was shot in the university's student center. Three armed robberies have been reported in or around campus in the past two weeks. And in May a student — who had attacked another student with a baseball bat on campus — was charged with killing, dismembering and eating parts of the heart and brain of man in his Harford County home.
"It's happening too often," Morrisa Reddon, a museum studies graduate student said of campus crime. "There needs to be some kind of revamping of security. Safety is a real concern right now."
Reddon said she had unwittingly walked down a stairwell behind Holmes Hall Thursday evening just an hour after an armed robbery was reported to have occurred there.
"This whole city life is getting real around here," said Reddon, who grew up on the Eastern Shore.
University officials said they stepped up campus patrols after the shooting. Police had detained Robertson Friday as a "person of interest" and took away several people in handcuffs, including at least one student, whom they described as witnesses.
Police have not released a motive in the incident; university officials said the shooting appeared to be targeted.
Morgan hired additional police officers and security guards for the evening and set up an anonymous tip line, Morgan President David Wilson wrote in an email to students Friday.
"Today's incident proves that we must continue our ongoing mission to rid this campus of elements that stand in the way of a secure campus and surrounding community," Wilson wrote, pledging to "redouble" efforts to boost safety and urging students to help.
Coleman said Saturday that the university was looking at other ways it could improve safety on campus.
Earlier Friday, a university spokesman said campus security was "where it needs to be." State Del. Curt Anderson, a Morgan alumnus who lives near campus, scoffed at that statement, calling it "ridiculous."
"Clearly, something needs to be done differently, because there's a problem," said Anderson. "If the police department over there thinks that they don't have a problem, than they're wrong."
Anderson, who has lived near Morgan for 35 years, said the Northeast Baltimore neighborhood surrounding the campus is largely safe, but he does hear gunshots from time to time. "It's one of those things you accept when you choose to live in the city," he said.
The university broke ground last week on a $72 million business school, a development they said could help expand the western edge of the campus and improve the nearby Northwood Plaza Shopping Center. Former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris was fatally shot at Northwood in 2007.
State Sen. Catherine Pugh, also an alumna, said she believed the string of incidents this year was a coincidence and hoped it would not reflect negatively on the university.
"It's indicative of the times. It's not indicative of Morgan itself," Pugh said. "It would be unfair to paint a negative portrait of this institution that is doing so much good in the community."
S. Daniel Carter, a national campus safety advocate, said it appears that there was little that Morgan officials could have done to prevent either recent shooting. In both incidents, the alleged gunman was not a student, so the shootings could not be blamed on a failure to track troubling student behavior.
"If it's a non-campus community member, the threat detection process really wouldn't work," he said. "It also doesn't work when you have a single incident that escalates immediately."
Short of installing a fence ringed with metal detectors around a campus, there are few ways to prevent such crimes, said Carter, who heads a group that analyzes campus safety.
"We have traditionally decided that as a society, we want campuses to be open places," said Carter.
Jonathan Bernstein, who owns Los Angeles-based Bernstien Crisis Management Inc., said in the aftermath of the shootings Morgan officials need to continually reassure students and the public that they have safety measures in place. They also need to take this time to make sure there is not more they can do to improve safety.
But he says all campuses are prone to violence and even the strongest safety measures won't always prevent crime. Universities should constantly revaluate ways to beef up efforts, he said.
"No matter how many systems put in place, somebody can always find a way to get around the system," Bernstein said. "Crisis prevention is not a static process. It should be a living dynamic process."
Some students said a fence around campus might not be such a bad idea.
"I do think Morgan should be a gated community," said Cameron Gilbert, a senior TV production major from Bowie. "Every day, there are people on this campus who don't go to school here."
Gilbert, 21, said his mother has been concerned about his safety, particularly when he has evening classes. Rather than walk the few blocks between his apartment and campus, he now drives at night.
He said he thought campus police were overly focused on busting underage drinking and loud parties, and did not do enough to prevent violent crime.
Carter said one way to cut down on violent crime would be to teach students to de-escalate conflict. Since both shooting victims had ties to the football team, Carter recommended the players to be among the first to receive such training.
At least one prospective student said news of two shootings in one semester was making her rethink her dream of attending Morgan.
"I don't really want to go to a school where I'm not safe and I'm not secure," said Yetunde Alawiye, 17, a junior at Kenwood High in Essex. "There's too much going on at Morgan. They need to bring it down a little bit."
Baltimore Sun reporters Brian Waters and Jeremy Bauer-Wolf contributed to this article.
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