Handguns and havoc on L.A. campuses

William Covington | 4/13/2011, 5 p.m.

To most students enrolled at Jefferson High School on Sept. 16, 1971, it was just like any new semester school day. Classes were held as usual. Some students hurried, while others lalligagged on their way to class, and the usual toughs roamed the grounds.

Although guns had been seen on campus at various times before, none had ever been fired. This day would be different. A small group of gang members ran around the campus, grabbing guys' Ace-Deuce brand stingy-brim hats under the pretext that only their gang members could wear them. "If you are not a [gang's name] you don't deserve an Ace-Deuce," the leader was heard to exclaim.

However, one of the confiscated hats belonged to a member of one of five rival gangs known to be active at "Jeff" at the time. Angry over the loss of his hat, he and members of his set [gang] scurried to the car belonging to the hat thieves and let the air out of its tires.

Then they found the hat thieves and chased them to the disabled vehicle, knowing there would be no speedy getaway. That's when the chasers opened fire, striking the leader several times before fleeing.

The incident seems lost in school district annals, although former students recall it clearly. But the incident may be important as the first known shooting on a Los Angeles high school campus, and it may have changed the way education is pursued locally from that day on.

Carver Junior High, a feeder school to Jeff, mirrored Jeff with a second on-campus shooting weeks later. Donald Anderson, a former LAUSD security agent, remembers that a Carver student was shot in the arm with a zip gun (a home-made device) outside the boy's locker room in 1971.

Slightly less than a year later, in November 1972, five teenagers were shot near a homecoming float on Jeff's campus. This second shooting was believed to be part of "a continuing feud between two rival gangs," the Los Angeles Times reported. Several hours later a 15-year-old youth believed to be a Jeff student was arrested in his home. Later still, a 17-year-old was booked on the same charges.

Security agents had already been assigned to some campuses years earlier because of the discovery of handguns on campus. Jomo Uhuru-Adafo, formerly Harry Blakely, remembers that among the measures the district took was to assign the first security agents to Jeff as early as 1966 as result of the occasional handgun found there long before any shootings.

By the 1990s--and there is no evidence that the incidents at Jeff or any Los Angeles school started the trend--guns were popping up in schools throughout the nation.

In March 1992, campus gun violence had become so widespread that a Newsweek article by Tom Morganthau, stated:

"Tragedy came to Crosby, Texas, over breakfast in the high-school cafeteria. The victim was Arthur Jack, 17, captain of the varsity football team ..." The article said Jack was helping himself to a glass of orange juice when a bullet from a .38-caliber revolver fired by a 15-year-old pierced his heart.