The shooting last week of a staff member at Frederick Douglass High School leaves many questions unanswered. Whether the city school system should revisit its decision to oppose arming school police officers is not one of them.
Police say Neil Davis, 25, went to Douglass on Friday intending to confront special education assistant Michael Marks about a disciplinary issue involving a relative. Mr. Davis entered the school lobby, asked for Mr. Marks and, when the staffer identified himself, began yelling. Police say Mr. Davis pulled out a gun and fired five shots, two of which hit Mr. Marks in the upper torso. Despite his injuries, Mr. Marks was able to disarm Mr. Davis and hold him until school police officers arrived, according to a police report.
There is good reason to question why Mr. Davis was able to show up at the school at all on Friday. In 2015, he cut the throat of an eight-year-old cousin, leading to a first-degree attempted murder charge and conviction on lesser counts. Police say he had been trying to find his cousin, Darelle Yancey, and followed three of the man’s younger siblings asking for him. When they said they didn’t know where Yancey was, he grabbed one of them and cut her across the neck with a knife. He served just three years in prison. Was there any reason to believe someone who would lash out in such inhuman violence against a little girl had been rehabilitated by three years in prison?
In November, Yancey was fatally shot in a killing police had already linked to Mr. Davis before Friday’s incident. Witnesses said the 25-year-old had been walking with another man when they heard a pop. They provided a description of the suspect and his clothing, which was confirmed by surveillance cameras and matched clothing Mr. Davis was wearing in pictures on his Facebook page, police say. Mr. Davis was charged in the Yancey killing after police were able to establish using ballistics tests that the same gun was used in that incident as Friday’s shooting at Douglass. But police need to ask themselves whether they could have built a strong enough case to arrest Mr. Davis at any point in the three months between Yancey’s killing and Friday’s attack.
Another good question the Douglass shooting raises is whether security at that school and others needs to be tightened. When The Sun conducted a test of security measures at a dozen and a half schools across the region last year, Douglass was one of the schools a reporter and photographer visited. They were stopped before they could access the building via a student entrance — which they were later told is secured by metal detectors — and were instead escorted to a main door. School officials prevented them from further access to the building without an appointment, but they were not screened in any way before entering the lobby. Friday’s shooting suggests that protocol may be sufficient to protect students but not staff.
What was not a factor in this case was the fact that the school police officer assigned to Douglass was unarmed. He was not on the scene when Mr. Marks was shot but was in another part of the building with two school police supervisors, who were armed. The three ran to the scene when they heard reports of gunfire, but none of them drew their weapons.
No question, this shooting was terrifying for Douglass’ students, in no small part because it was such an aberration. There has not been a shooting inside a Baltimore City public school in decades and none on school grounds since the early 2000s. But it doesn’t change any of the reasons so many students and parents objected to the most recent proposal to arm school police. Many students are exposed to far too much violence in their neighborhoods, and they want their schools to be a haven from that reality. The presence of an armed police officer can trigger more feelings of trauma than safety. Moreover, the record of school police officers in other jurisdictions leaving their weapons unsecured or accidentally firing them is beyond troubling. Last year, the Associated Press cataloged 30 such incidents involving school resource officers or teachers since 2014.
By all accounts, the city schools police force has made important strides in the last few years in improving relations with students and avoiding complaints of excessive force. In spite of that, the community voiced opposition to arming school police officers that was strong enough to prompt a 10-0 school board vote against the idea last year. Friday’s shooting should not change their minds.
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