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Published in Print: November 24, 1999, as Detroit Mobilizes Against Attacks On Students

Detroit Mobilizes Against Attacks On Students

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Mayor Dennis Archer of Detroit called last week for a citywide campaign to ensure that students are safe as they walk to and from school, following a series of rapes and abductions of students near local schools.

District officials say that, since September, nine girls have been raped on their way to school, and that several other female students have reported abduction attempts.

"Kids can't just walk to school without looking over their shoulders," said Sharon Turner, who walks her 6- and 7-year olds to their school, where she also works. "I take my kids to and from school. As for other working parents, it's sad, but they can't all do that."

Concern over the incidents was dramatized last week when hundreds of students left class at two Detroit high schools over two days to protest the attacks. And an estimated 10,000 people turned out for a public meeting on the incidents Nov. 17 at a church in the city.

Meanwhile, school officials, church leaders, and the local news media were urging adults to keep an eye out for children walking to and from school. This week, Mr. Archer, a Democrat, was scheduled to outline his plan to make streets safer for children in a speech scheduled to be broadcast on local television and radio.

Call for Unity

"This is a crisis," said Charles Mitchell, the chief of the Detroit school district's police and security force. "[The mayor's] going to mobilize the citizens."

The assaults have occurred as city officials were celebrating a kinder and gentler Detroit image following one of the most trouble-free Halloweens in recent history. Detroit, which became notorious in the late 1980s for hundreds of arson fires on "Devil's Night"— the night before Halloween—this year kept the blazes down to the lowest levels since 1984.

Mayor Archer, who was given significant new authority over the 174,000-student city school system earlier this year, hopes to tap into the force of 30,000 volunteers who helped make Halloween safer to help safeguard students going to and from school.

As part of the response, the district's 45 police officers have been put under the supervision of the city's police department. In addition, a city police officer was to be assigned to each of the city's 263 schools beginning this week.

The mayor's scheduled Nov. 22 speech was expected to feature pleas to Detroit citizens to turn on their porch lights in the predawn hours, watch the streets from their windows, drive on city streets to work rather than on freeways, blow car horns at the sight of suspicious activity, and form walking groups.

'This Is Personal'

"This is personal for us," Mr. Archer said in a written statement last week. "Get personally involved today."

But some residents are concerned that city officials have not responded quickly or aggressively enough.

Many of the people who showed up at the Perfecting Church last week for a community meeting organized by a local radio station complained that more could have been done sooner. "The general public expressed outrage that there isn't more bus transportation to schools for students," said Fred Brady, the administrator of the church.

As of late last week, a 26-year-old man had been arrested and remained in custody in connection with one of the sexual assaults. At least thee other men had been questioned and released, according to Paula Bridges, a police spokeswoman.

Vol. 19, Issue 13, Page 3

Web Resources
  • "Keep Schools Safe," from the National Association of Attorneys General and the National School Boards Association, provides up-to-date information on successful programs for safer schools.
  • "Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't, What's Promising," a 1996 report to the U.S.Congress, by the National Institute of Justice, takes a hard look at prevention programs. The report, not surprisingly, finds "that some prevention programs work, some do not, some are promising, and some have not been tested adequately."
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