There are a number of appropriate ways for a school official to respond to an incident in which a student became the victim of a violent crime.
Check on the victim, his family, and friends, and offer them all the support they need. Create an environment where students feel safe to express their concerns, fears, and emotional trauma connected to the incident. Publicly denounce violence and advocate for a kinder, more peaceful society.
Then there’s what a school official should absolutely not do in response to such an incident: Punish the victim by banning them from all school activities, including graduation.
Meet Dashawn Walker.
Dashawn is a 17-year-old Black student at North Philadelphia’s Mathematics, Civics, and Sciences Charter School who was shot 10 times in February while he was walking home from school.
According to police officials, Dashawn has no criminal history and, according to prosecutors, there is no indication that the teen has been involved in any activities that would be likely to make him a target for gang violence or the like. Yet, police officials did say they believed he was “targeted,” and that was enough for Veronica Joyner, the school’s founder and chief administrator, to ban Dashawn—whom she personally interviewed and admitted to her school, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer—from in-person schooling and from all school events, including prom and graduation.
“If you’re a target, do I bring that target around other people and get them caught up in a shooting?” Joyner, who is also Black, asked during an interview. “We would be placing others at risk by having him around.”
“I’m looking at the violence in this city and making a decision not to place everyone at risk,” she went on to say. “It’s a safety issue. The only thing I could do was protect everyone else.”
It makes no logical sense to decide a person is a potential danger to others because they were the victim of violence. Joyner reportedly learned from watching local news reports that police believe Dashawn was targeted. If she had bothered to look into the matter any further before deciding the victim—who narrowly escaped from the incident with his life, yet still worked hard not to let it derail his school year—should be barred from entering the school, she might have gotten the word from legal officials that Dashawn was no threat to others. She might have even found out that he didn’t know the man accused of shooting him.
The Inquirer reports that Walker said the man who police say shot him — 20-year-old Micah Roane, who is now facing attempted murder charges — lives in his neighborhood, but he’s never spoken with him and doesn’t know why Roane came after him that day.
Walker, who has never been in trouble with the law, believes he’s the victim of mistaken identity noting that Roane could have been looking for someone wearing his same backpack or hoodie.
Capt. James Kearney, head of the Police Department’s nonfatal shooting unit, confirmed that surveillance video of the shooting indicated that Roane targeted Walker but investigators are still clueless as to why.
“He seemed like a good kid,” Kearney said, according to The Inquirer.
That notion was echoed by prosecutors.
“There is no information that indicates the victim is involved in any criminal activity,” said Jane Roh, spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, says The Inquirer. “Regardless, there’s no reason we could justify what happened to him,” Roh said. “It’s an unacceptable, outrageous act of violence, and it’s a tragedy. And there’s no reason any institution should be treating him like he is also a defendant.”
Dashawn being banned from his school doesn’t seem to be a “safety issue,” as Joyner suggested. It feels like a cowardice issue and an issue of anti-Black stigma often leveled at Black men and boys regardless of whether they’re guilty of criminal activity or not. At one point in the story, the administrator is accused by friends of Walker of allegedly asking how he could afford a designer backpack and shoes, and a suit for prom.
“Walker believes she was insinuating he was selling drugs or involved with crime to pay for those items,” reports The Inquirer.
The publication adds that Walker was accepted into Shippensburg University, in central Pennsylvania, and hopes to start in the fall and wants to start an emotional support group called Redemption for gun violence survivors.