Last weekend’s gang rape at Richmond High School was almost bound to happen. All it needed was a spark – the elements were already there.
The courtyard where the attack erupted was the most infamous spot on campus, an out-of-the-way, poorly lit venue for gang initiations and dopers lighting up joints.
The 15-year-old victim was a vulnerable girl who attended church and wanted to be a police scout, but also worried counselors by trying too hard to please the school’s bad boys.
As for the suspects: They were a mix of the bad boys, the wannabe bad boys, and the hardened, grown-up bad boys who had aged out of school.
All it took for things to lurch out of control, investigators, students and community leaders say, was opportunity – and that came when the girl left the school dance Saturday night, walked by a group of bad boys boozing hard in the unlit courtyard, and accepted their invitation to hang out.
Fueled by street-macho bravado and inspired by sexual initiations required to get into some local gangs, they began the attack, investigators say.
On the other side of the campus, more than 400 students partied at the homecoming dance.
And now it is those 400 students and the rest of the 1,600-strong student body, along with their teachers and community leaders, who are wrestling to make sense of what happened. It doesn’t take much to trace the cause, they say.
Take the poverty-driven frustration of inner-city Richmond, a youth street culture that glorifies thugs and applauds degradation of women, and the desensitization of young men through violent video games, music and language, and you have a template for trouble.
“This is like a lot of schools, where most of the kids are good kids – and then, we know which ones are going wrong,” said Charles Johnson, one of Richmond High’s security specialists.
“You wouldn’t believe the stuff we have to put up with those few who go wrong – guns, dope busts, fighting,” Johnson said. “We know that courtyard, and we’ve been waiting for something to happen there.
“I’m sorry it had to be this terrible.”
Johnson, teachers and students at least partially blame the attack on the lack of lighting, sturdy fencing or security cameras on the courtyard, which abuts a rough neighborhood on the northern end of the campus on 23rd Street. Signs for the Norteño and Crips gangs are scrawled in huge letters on a wall near the driveway leading into the courtyard.
On Saturday, district officials confirmed plans to install higher fences around the entire school before next summer, and to firm up security in general – but the challenges will still be steep. Johnson also blames the attack and much of the school’s troubles on nonstudent “outsiders” – as several of the attack suspects are – who regularly trespass on campus, and they are much less respectful of authority than the students themselves.
But as much as anything, the attack stems from the way the roughest young men treat women, Johnson and the others say. And this is a problem that extends far beyond the East Bay campus’ borders.