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 (May 19, 2005)

          A 17-year-old boy lay on the sidewalk
on Walgrove Avenue outside of Venice High School, at 2 o’clock on a classically gorgeous L.A. day. Sun was warm, the west side air laced with marine layer, carried by light breeze.
          The boy was flat on his back with a big hole in his chest, blood bubbling out, victim of the cop cliché known as a “drive-by shooting.”
          Thursday, the twelfth of May.
          It did not make the evening news, or the papers.
          I was tipped off to the shooting by a friend who has a son at Venice (and for her son’s protection, asked to remain anonymous here.) She was exasperated by the lack of news coverage, and by a conversation she had with Venice Principal Jan Davis. She asked me to make some calls and look into things.
          “It was really scary,” said Angry Parent. “What angers me is that there was no media coverage. My neighbor told me that gang crime is underreported in Venice, and the adjacent environs because of the high property values. What is going on?”
          Perhaps the neighbor’s suspicions are warranted---that gang crime is deliberately underreported in increasingly gentrified Venice. (Can you say. . .million-dollar crackerboxes?) I spoke with two school administrators involved in the incident, and both expressed great relief---not that the student survived, but at the lack of news coverage. Said one:
         “There was nothing in the papers, and we’d like it to stay that way.”
         My three phone messages inquiring about the shooting to the Pacific Division LAPD have gone unreturned.
          Angry Parent claimed there was an effort to play down, if not cover up, the shooting---despite the fact that it happened just a few yards from Venice High, in full view of several Venice students. Despite the fact that Walgrove and Zanja Street, which border the school on the west and south, were promptly closed for police investigation. Despite the fact that frightened VHS kids were immeditaely routed off campus through other exits.
          All that Angry Parent said she could learn from Principal Jan Davis was this:
          “According to Jan, the incident was not on school property, and no students were involved, so that's that.”
"Kids bring weapons all the time. Sometimes guns. I know kids bringing rolls of pennies in their hands. If you have something in your hand, a grip, you have a better angle to hit with."

          Davis told me otherwise---that she took action. She alerted faculty, who discussed it with students. She saw to it that the shooting was brought up at a PTA meeting, and with her approval, the LAPD and L.A. Unified School District Police increased presence on and off-campus in the past week, while the LAPD investigation continues.
          As for lack of news coverage, Davis told me this:
          “We don’t call the news media. . .We’ve been doing very well the last few years. We've had no problems. This is an isolated incident. The school paper (The Oarsman) did an article on it, and that’ll go to the kids and parents. We like to keep it in-house if possible, because it did not affect the school to a great point. We had phone calls from parents, and we answered their questions. Whenever we have any incident, for rumor control, I put out statement to faculty as to what happened.”
          She added that while such incidents “can be” bad public relations for the school, and that media coverage could “heighten concern” and tensions,  “We weren’t trying to hide anything."
          Oh, no? We like to keep it in-house? This is an isolated incident? We've been doing very well the last few years? At Venice High, you have to wonder: where does PR stop and concern for safety begin? Common sense dictates that the campus should have been closed for a day or two in the interests of protecting students—but, of course, that would have alerted the media.
         As for "this is an isolated incident," well, this was not a cherry bomb in a trash can---it was an ambush attempted murder of a kid a few feet from campus!
          I must I express outright stupefication at Davis’s comment, “it did not affect the school to a great point.” Is she saying that students recovered and went about business as usual the day after a kid had a hole blown in his torso during sixth period? Are young people so jaded to violence and mayhem? Is Davis?
          One Venice student, at least, was not. It’s fair to say that he was affected “to a great point” by the shooting, seeing as he witnessed it, and was acquainted with the victim. (He was one of the witnesses interviewed by the LAPD.) He maintains that his teachers said nothing about the incident. Here is his account, told to me on the condition that his name not be revealed:
          “We were just hanging out with some friends, in the parking lot lot in front of the pool, minding our own business.” (For the record, he was ditching a class.) “Suddenly we hear this big old pop---explosion, fireworks or something. I wasn’t paying much attention, ‘cause it sounded like fireworks.
          “Then we hear this car split down the road. We see that all the time----cars flashing by. It’s no big deal. So I’m walking with my two friends, and I see this family rush out of the house and they crowd around this guy on the ground. And my friend recognized him.”
          “He was shot in the chest cavity. I thought he just fell or something. I had to struggle with reality and put two and two together, hearing this loud sound, car speeding away, and my friend was laying there, shot.”
          Yes, this is high school education in Los Angeles in the 21st century, ladies and gentlemen. Anatomy in living, bleeding color. Not to mention criminology.
          I must also mention the deliberate obfuscation I encountered when I first phoned the school. Davis was unavailable, so I spoke with her assistant, Jackie Kliemann. She seemed to play down the shooting, just as Angry Parent said Davis had done.
          “We don’t know very much,” she said. “It wasn’t our student. He was from the Skills Center.”
          The Skills Center? This, I was told was a nearby alternative school.
          “So,” I said, “The Skills Center has zero relationship with Venice
          “That’s right.”
          No, that's wrong.
          The victim---now making a miraculous recovery after first being listed in critical condition---had reportedly been a student at VHS as recently as last semester. And he was not from the Skills Center, contrary to Kliemann’s statement---he was from the Alterative Education Program, a district-wide program for earning a high school diploma with a classroom at the Skills Center in Venice, about two miles from the high school.
          While the Alternative Education Program is not officially affiliated with Venice High, it has what coordinator Barbara Kernochan told me is “a close working relationship” with Venice. What's more, VHS Dean Henry Lazo, who deals with truancy problems, works regularly with Kernochan, and “over 50 percent” of Alternative’s students are from Venice High.
          So here you have a former VHS student finishing his degree at a nearby school with close ties to Venice High, who is shot a few feet away from Venice High, with the shooting witnessed by Venice High students, who have to leave school by different Venice High exits because of the shooting, with the LAPD putting uniformed officers on the Venice High campus the next day, along with school cops who remained a presence for at least the following week. . .
          Yet I was told by the school spokesperson, "It wasn't our student."
          Still, it’s hard to blame administrators for trying to cover up these things. Schools don’t need bad press any more than they already have, what with black vs. latino riots breaking out at various L.A. highs, including Santa Monica, in recent weeks. It’s probably district policy to keep a lid on the stuff, in order to not inflame existing tensions. Davis's insistence that things are now "calm" at the school must be an effort along these lines.
          Yet at least in the opinion of the student who witnessed the shooting, all is hardly "calm" at Venice High:
          “I don’t think the school is doing enough. . .There were no warnings from my teachers (after the shooting.). . .If there is a fight, they get a little time-out, then they’re right back out. I notice a lot of groups around Venice High, and they all hate each other. I know these Mexican guys wrote in the hallways, swastikas saying ‘f--- (blacks.)’
          “Around Venice High, the kids always have their game faces on. They’re all time bombs, they’re ready to go off. They’re ready for anything. I was thinking about going to Santa Monica High, but I changed my mind pretty quick after the riots there.”
          “I hear it all the time (that students have guns.) One of my friends was carrying a BB pistol around. . .Kids bring weapons all the time. Sometimes guns. I know kids bringing rolls of pennies in their hands. If you have something in your hand, a grip, you have a better angle to hit with. I saw one guy with a knife. Bony shank. And he got caught. I heard he was expelled.
          “I’m not really comfortable. It’s probably the best school out there for me, though, so I want to stick it out for the rest of the semester and then chill for the summer.”
          And hope he does not wind up on the sidewalk, with a hole in his chest. Just one of the routine perils of being a student at Venice High.

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