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School gun case sparks debate over safety and second chances

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School gun case sparks debate over safety and second chances

MARTHA IRVINE

September 8, 2022 GMT

Oak Park, Ill. (AP) — Keyon Robinson was just a month away from graduating from high school when he took a loaded gun, placed it in his backpack and headed to campus.

He’d fought with a relative that morning. He was angry, and scared someone would come after him. The firearm, a Glock-style ghost gun with no serial number that he’d bought via social media, was his security blanket.

“I felt like I just needed it for safety because of the stuff I got myself into,” said Robinson, now 19.

He insists he never intended to hurt anyone at his school in Oak Park, a suburb that borders Chicago’s West Side. “Realistically, I didn’t need a gun at all.”

And he never fired it. On May 3 — three weeks before a gunman massacred 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas — police arrested Robinson near the school’s main entrance as he returned from lunch. He told the officers, who were acting on a tip, that he hadn’t even taken the gun out of his backpack until they asked him to do so.

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Still, in an instant, that one decision changed the trajectory of his young life. It also shook the entire school community, prompting intense discussions about how its young people might be protected.

Most gun incidents in and around campuses are more like Oak Park than Uvalde. They’re not planned large-scale shootings, or active-shooter situations. More often, they’re smaller altercations that escalate when someone has a gun at or near a school, a game or other event, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, which tracks incidents from the last five decades.

All these cases expose a hard truth: Keeping students from bringing guns to school is difficult.

Security staff and metal detectors miss things, experts say. Doors that are supposed to be locked get propped open. Items can be hidden even when schools require clear backpacks.

This fall, leaders at Oak Park and River Forest High, Robinson’s school, began training more staff, adding security to the day shift, and moving more experienced team members to hot spots such as cafeterias, where fights are known to break out during lunch. Posters on the massive campus encourage students to be the school’s eyes and ears: “If You See Something, Say Something.”

The school, known as OPRF, is trying to walk a fine line — to keep students and staff safe without making them feel unwelcome or anxious. In 2020, the School Board voted 6-1 to end the school resource officer program amid national protests over police brutality. Cries for reform escalated that summer after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man, as other officers stood by.

Now some officials are rethinking the decision to cut ties with police. But they’re also holding fast to a widely held belief among educators — that connecting with students is the best way to build trust, identify threats and prevent tragedies.

By his own account, and according to school records provided by his attorney, Robinson was a student who bonded with teachers at OPRF, including support staff. One staffer noted his “unbelievable social skills” and respectfulness. He owned his mistakes, staff said, but he also struggled with depression, drug use and occasional impulsivity. Schoolwork was a challenge.

After his arrest, Robinson said he was expelled. But the district offered him the chance to complete his studies, away from his classmates and campus, where he can no longer set foot. A Cook County judge agreed that school in some form was “the best thing for him to do,” though she gave him a stern reminder to avoid school grounds and weapons of any kind.

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“Yes, your honor,” Robinson responded.

With that, the judge allowed him to be released on bond after a few weeks in jail, and he spent most of the summer at his family’s Oak Park apartment, wearing ankle monitors to track his movements. He hung out with his mom and siblings, played video games and finished the schoolwork. Eventually, he got his diploma.

“It’s restrictive, always,” Robinson said of the monitors. “But I got to be grateful.”

As he awaits his fate in court, he’s been granted permission to work at a fast-food restaurant. Ultimately, he’d like to go to community college or trade school, and maybe play football. He and his family hope felony charges will be deferred because this is a first-time offense.

Meanwhile, students have returned for a new year at OPRF as school officials and the community process what happened.

“It pains me to the core of my being that you have to do this on your jobs,” School Board member Ralph Martire told staff after a security update at a recent meeting. “It shouldn’t be that we should be this worried about violence at this level in educational setting. But we have to be — the world has to be.”

The K-12 database shows that active shooter incidents — when a shooter kills or wounds victims on campus during “a continuous episode of violence” — accounted for 11 of 430 shootings in and around schools from the start of 2021 through August 2022.

Fights that escalate when someone has a gun accounted for 123 of those shootings. In South Carolina, a 12-year-old shot and killed a classmate in a middle school hallway, and in New Orleans, an 80-year-old woman was caught in crossfire at a graduation — both in the same month Robinson was caught with the gun.

Many in the Oak Park community worry. What if another student brings a weapon to school? Maybe they already have.

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No one at the School Board meeting spoke Robinson’s name, though the incident was on many minds. He is aware that his actions have affected people’s sense of safety.

“Because of the mistake that I made, and other mistakes, then I think that it is reasonable to have more tighter security — and have an officer in the school now,” he said. “I think that’s something that’s appropriate.”

OPRF is among many schools nationwide that have shifted to a restorative justice model, moving away from zero-tolerance polices, which often disproportionately affect students of color. At OPRF, about 44 percent of roughly 3,400 students at the high school identify as Black, Hispanic, multiracial or Asian.

With restorative justice, incidents are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, with more time spent processing what’s happened to try to prevent repeat behavior. There are consequences, determined by the severity of the deed. But the goal is for students to spend more time learning and to make better choices, with support.

Superintendent Greg Johnson still sees a chance to rethink the role police could have at the school. Johnson, who is white, told the school board he understands the “very real challenge” people of color face with law enforcement.

“Our belief as a school district, though, is that the way through that is education and relationships,” he said. “We need a partnership” with police, he added. “We need a member on our crisis team here.”

A federal survey found that 42 percent of public schools had at least one resource officer one day or more a week in the 2015-16 school year, the most recent data available. The National Association of School Resource Officers, which helps train police to work in educational settings, estimates that 14,000 to 20,000 resource officers serve K-12 schools.

Still, at least two OPRF board members balked when another praised efforts to “harden” security this fall.

“We want to keep the buildings safe,” member Gina Harris said. “But that language is challenging, as well as confronting for me as a Black woman and for families and students.”

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At one point in the meeting, a frustrated parent stood up to interrupt the board discussion. “This is a scary issue for us parents!” she said. “This is really a critical life-and-death situation that we’re dealing with.”

Lynda Parker, the school’s assistant superintendent and principal, tried to reassure her. “It is as important to us — as we’re living in it too,” Parker said, gently.

Behavior problems and mental health issues have been on the rise at many schools since students returned to in-person learning, and OPRF is no exception. Having to quarantine at the height of the pandemic also took a toll on Robinson.

“I stopped playing football,” he said. “I was not doing good in school over Zoom, so I feel like it had a big impact on my life, a huge impact on my life.”

He’d been a running back and cornerback early in his high school career. When in-person school resumed, he’d lost motivation, he said, and got suspended from the team for vaping at school and other infractions.

“I wouldn’t say we were goodie kids,” he said of himself and his friends. “But, like, just typical teenagers.”

But he liked school and the people there, he said, even the security staff, and considered many teachers mentors.

“They were supporting me and still pushing me to do better,” he said, even when he was in jail. “Still, to this day, I have teachers texting me, checking on me.”

At a recent status hearing for his case, Robinson, wearing jeans and a white dress shirt, sat silently with his mom, Nicole Bryant, who works in child care and drives for Uber to make ends meet. Robinson’s attorney updated the court on his client’s work schedule and location. One of Robinson’s two electronic monitors was removed.

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He faces charges including possession of a firearm, a class 3 felony, and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, a class 4 felony. They could lead to substantial time in prison.

“The news media says ‘kid with gun at school’ — boom — and that’s it. And people draw their conclusions,” attorney Thomas Benno said. He’s asking the court to consider Robinson’s intent in having the gun with him — to protect himself.

Because Robinson had no criminal record, other than a traffic violation, Benno is seeking the deferred sentence, which means probation and other requirements detailed by the court. It’s a strict, monitored program with no room for more mistakes, Benno said. He believes that’s better than incarceration, in this instance, and that his young client, who school staff say is a leader in his social circles, will share his cautionary tale.

“He can go and tell kids, ‘Hey, don’t carry the gun,’” Benno said. “He’s going to tell the story.”

Some in the community still quietly question whether a second chance would send the right message.

Just four days into this academic year, OPRF had a soft lockdown over a report of a student with a gun. Under the “Secure and Teach” protocol, as the school calls it, teachers lock their doors and try to continue with their lessons while security investigates.

The report turned out to be unfounded. The community breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“I’d rather have them overreact than underreact, because the consequence is so great,” said Brian Roman, a university professor and OPRF parent.

He’s considered shifting his son to another school because of safety concerns. But he appreciates OPRF and the diversity it offers, and he still hopes his son can graduate from the school in 2024.

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Last spring, Robinson’s mom had been ready to celebrate her own son, the third of her four children. He had fought so hard to graduate, she told the school — he wanted to show everyone he could do it, despite his struggles. She, too, graduated from OPRF. Now she’s just grateful her son was allowed to get his diploma, even if he couldn’t walk with his class.

Leon Watson, a family friend, frowned when asked about Robinson, the gun and that day last May. “I was disappointed and surprised and confused,” he said. “That’s not him. It’s not … but he’s kicking himself every day.”

Robinson nodded in agreement. “Yeah,” he said. “Every day.”

His hopes for a second chance are now in the hands of the court.

___

Martha Irvine, an AP national writer and visual journalist, can be reached at [email protected] or at http://twitter.com/irvineap.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

___

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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