As media descends, school and city react to national spotlight
on October 28, 2009
Richmond High senior Norma Bautista can’t help but follow the media coverage of a rape that happened on campus during a homecoming dance last week. It’s impossible to avoid – there’s a big CNN truck she has to walk around that serves as a reminder.
A 15-year-old girl was raped, beaten and robbed by a group of up to seven people after a homecoming dance on campus last week, police reported. Some onlookers took photos and laughed at the assault, and no one at the scene contacted police. A total of five people have been arrested, according to police.
When Bautista scrolls through comments at the end of an article about the attack, or flips on the news, she gets upset. She said she’s tired of having her school badmouthed by outsiders and her classmates called harsh names.
“It crushes me,” said Bautista, who is involved with campus leadership groups like Youth Together and Street Soldiers. “For me, I love my school. I’m not ashamed. You have really great people here, a lot of opportunity. It’s really devastating when people assume we’re animals.”
After Bautista finished talking, she crossed 23rd Street to speak with a TV crew set up across from the school. Reporters descended on campus, and the city, this week and set up at the school’s entrance. Later on Wednesday, Bautista was part of a campus press conference, in which students and teachers spoke about how they are having trouble grieving while in the national spotlight.
Nadeen Elshorafa, site organizer for Youth Together, said the point of the conference was for the students, staff and people of Richmond to stand together as a united front.
“I want everyone to know we are not criminals,” Bautista said at the news conference. “We are youth.”
Teacher Lorna McClellan said at the conference that she thinks Richmond is being portrayed as a community that does not stand up to violence.
“That is not true,” said McClellan, in her fourth year at the school.
Earlier in the day in an interview, senior Marcos Gonzalez said while he understands the reason for the media scrutiny, he thinks the treatment has been unfair. The school has steadily improved since his freshman year, he said, and he pointed to a rise in state test scores advertised on a banner that hangs near the school’s entrance.
He said he worries job interviewers and college recruiters may not give him a chance because of Richmond High’s reputation.
“They’re making the school look bad,” he said. “We’ve had a bad reputation all these years and this makes it worse.”
Sophomores Yanedin Moran and Aida Mitchell said maybe the school deserves a bad reputation. They both said they’ve seen gang fights on campus and said the school needs better security.
“I don’t feel safe. That could have happened any day,” Mitchell said. “The principal says we’re safe because he has his kids here, but I don’t feel safe.”
Across 23rd Street from the school, Sheila Solis, the owner of Solis Academy of Martial Arts for 25 years, agreed the area around the school can be rough. She said she wouldn’t walk up any of the side streets off 23rd after dark.
Still, she said some of the treatment the city and school have been receiving is undeservedly nasty. Terrible crimes can happen anywhere, she said.
“You can’t put Richmond down, San Pablo down. It all depends,” said Solis as she took a break from sweeping the floor to marvel at the huge van with a satellite on its roof parked down the block. “It could have happened in Pleasant Hill, Concord, wherever. It’s not an everyday thing. But maybe it’s a wakeup call.”
Richmond Confidential reporter Karen McIntyre contributed to this report.
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