by RIP RENSE
IS ALL CALM AT
(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
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
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
|"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
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
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
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?
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
(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
“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
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.
least in the opinion of the student who witnessed the shooting, all is
"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
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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