Posted on October 20, 2008

Tensions High as Madison Memorial Closes

Sandy Cullen, Wisconsin State Journal (Madison), Oct. 17, 2008

Madison’s Memorial High School was on edge on Friday, the day after a racially tinged fight and amid rumors of a possible gun at school. Students were sent home just before 1 p.m.

Police set up a command post and five detectives were brought in to help more than 10 officers determine if a safety threat existed. No guns were found and no fights or incidents were reported.

The police intervention — which also included officers who followed school buses and monitored West Towne Mall and Metro Transit transfer points — came after a fight between black and Latino students at the school on Thursday. Several students were arrested, and the fight sparked rumors of retaliation, including reports that a gun might have been brought to school on Friday, police and school district officials said,

No gun was found, said Luis Yudice, the district’s security coordinator, but officials decided that closing the school “was simply the safest thing to do.”

One student was arrested Friday for possessing a sharp, pointed homemade object. Officer Shannon Blackamore, Memorial’s educational resource officer, said the student, who is Latino, had not been involved in Thursday’s incident.

Student charged

On Friday, student Christina D. Smith, 17, was charged under hate crime statutes with substantial battery and disorderly conduct in connection with Thursday’s fight.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Dane County Circuit Court, Smith repeatedly punched a 17-year-old Latina student in the face. The Latina student lost consciousness. She later told police that as she came out of class, a group of black students called a group of Latino students “wetbacks,” the complaint states.

he Latina student said she told one of the black students, who is not identified in the complaint, to stop saying insulting things. He replied that she should “do something” about it, then a group of black girls rushed forward and fought with Latino students.

The battery charge includes two enhancers that could bring a stiffer sentence: one for the alleged hate crime and another for violence in a school zone.

After Thursday’s fight, Yudice said, “Rumors started flying.” He said he received calls from parents concerned there might be retaliation and continuing conflict between students on Friday. Students came forward to report information, with some saying they heard other students were going to bring weapons to school, he said.