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Baltimore Student Union co-founder: Running high schools like prisons won’t solve city violence | READER COMMENTARY

Police tape is seen at the site of a fatal shooting near Edmondson Westside High School, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

It wasn’t long ago that students leaving school campuses to buy their lunch from a local café or corner store was commonplace. In fact, that practice remains customary in many parts of this country and around the world. Students like myself essentially work full-time jobs with the school day and the work that comes with it, and, as such, one of the easiest and most accessible ways for us to participate in community life is to engage in local commerce and go around to stores. Until very recently, that was lauded and encouraged — even when it fell during our school lunch break.

The move away from that — and the subsequent imposition of rules and punishments limiting where students can go during the day — is, according to the writer of a response to The Baltimore Sun’s coverage of the Edmondson Village shooting (”Following safety rules might have saved students from shooting,” Jan. 7), necessary to “limit [student] risk” of community violence.

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But rules banning students from leaving campus during the lunch break are a fool’s errand. They don’t work. Instead, they’re an easy way for the people in power to cover up the gaping wound of violence with an adhesive bandage of caution, while they fail to make the schools and the streets safer, year after year.

It is true, based on what the Baltimore Police Department believes happened on Wednesday, Jan. 4, that had those five students from Edmondson Westside High chosen to stay in the cafeteria that day, none of them might have been shot, and the student who died might still be alive. But victim blaming those who found themselves on the wrong side of a shooter that day because they were flouting school rules doesn’t solve the problem any more than the rules do.

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Keeping a school campus closed from morning to evening or students locked away in class or at home are the worst of a wide number of possible policy solutions to gun violence. And they make our schools feel even more like adult prisons than they already do, with metal detectors and bag checks at each entrance.

As my friend Camille said to me, it’s a “dynamic choice to blame students sitting in the hospital with a gunshot wound for ‘breaking the rules’ instead of asking why there are so many guns on the streets in the first place.”

Students in Baltimore are often treated as younger and less intelligent than we are. If schools expect students to abide by rules that were not formed in consultation with us, and are enforced with no sense of accountability or justice, then they must have a better explanation when school shootings happen that extends beyond “it’s your fault.” The real problem is not necessarily in these rules, but in the fact that enforcing them becomes a distraction as the most obvious course of action for those in power, while every other tool we have for preventing school shootings falls by the wayside.

The bulk of Mayor Brandon Scott’s news conference in the aftermath of the shooting was aimed at criticizing the shopping center’s landlords for servicing students during the day. No emphasis whatsoever was made on the police department’s failure to prevent these kinds of events while Commissioner Michael Harrison stood directly to the mayor’s side; there was no emphasis whatsoever on this country’s abysmal and failing gun laws.

Maybe our peers from Edmondson were selfish that day to willingly break the rules, not knowing what might happen. But they should not be blamed, regardless of whether they broke the rules for an all-too-common course of events that was largely out of their control. What is equally selfish, if not more, is decision-makers in positions of power who choose to instill unintuitive rules in bad faith.

The Sun’s readers need not worry. Trust me: We think.

— Ethan Eblaghie, Baltimore

The writer is co-founder of the Baltimore Student Union.

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