As about 200 students from across Maryland took their seats at a summit to discuss the problem of school violence, the stereo played an instrumental version of a song familiar, questionable and yet somehow appropriate: “Gangsta’s Paradise.”
Coolio’s elegy to gang violence (sample lyric: “You better watch how you talking, and where you walking/Or you and your homies might be lined in chalk”) perhaps didn’t speak to the experience of the students from rural Garrett County in western Maryland, but the causes and tragic outcomes of school violence haven’t changed much since the hit song was released in 1995.
Gossip, rumors, dirty looks exchanged in the hallway. Neighborhood beefs or quarrels over a girlfriend or boyfriend. The temptation to bully somebody defenseless or different. All could kick off a fight back then, and to listen to the students who spoke at the summit last week in Greenbelt, they still do.
A girl from Parkville High School in Baltimore County rattled off a list of the things she sees at her school: “Gang violence. Student-teacher violence. Sexual harassment. Bullying.”