City Mobilizes In Response To Rape At School Richmond, Calif. finds itself under the unwanted glare of a media spotlight while students, teachers and parents try to heal their community in the wake of last week's brutal assault at a local high school.
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City Mobilizes In Response To Rape At School

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City Mobilizes In Response To Rape At School

City Mobilizes In Response To Rape At School

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In Northern California, police in the City of Richmond expect to make more arrests in the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl. The victim was attacked last weekend in the school's courtyard after leaving Richmond High's homecoming dance. So far, six men and teenagers have been arrested.

Police say as many as ten people may have participated in the attack while a dozen more watched without calling police. The crime sparked outrage across the country. In that Bay Area city, students, teachers and parents are trying to heal their community.

From member station KQED, here's Rachel Dornhelm.

RACHEL DORNHELM: Details of Saturday's two-hour assault shocked even the most seasoned police officers. Now, Richmond High School finds itself under the unwanted glare of a media spotlight. The high school sits on a main street in the working-class city north of Berkeley. It's a community that's often mentioned only in the context of crime.

This week, students and teachers gathered for a community meeting in front of a painted sign with the words: We are against violence. The tone of the meeting was at times a tribute to the victim and at times a call to action from people like teacher Lorna McClellan.

Ms. LORNA MCCLELLAN: Women are constantly degraded in our society. When are we going to step up, take the challenge and change it?

DORNHELM: But there was also anger from students who feel they've been unfairly portrayed by the media.

Ms. NORMA BAUTISTA: We do care about the young girl that got raped.

DORNHELM: That's high school senior Norma Bautista.

Ms. BAUTISTA: We're right here showing everybody that, you know, we're not criminals, we're not animals we're not what they say we are.

DORNHELM: Bautista says she's worked hard to get here. She's the second person in her family who will graduate from high school. She's accustomed to challenges. And she says she wants people to know students are mobilizing.

Ms. BAUTISTA: Well, we decided here at school to make workshops for our young men, like, about, you know, domestic violence. Not just young men, also our young women about all that kind of stuff, right. Like, everything, like, trying to better our school. That's why we're all here together.

DORNHELM: Tenth-grader Andre Taylor was also at the meeting. He says he came because he knows something needs to change.

Mr. ANDRE TAYLOR: I didn't know the girl so well, but I know of things that happen like this. And I've had personal experiences where it hasn't happened to me, but someone in my family.

DORNHELM: Taylor says this incident may be the defining moment of his high school career. He says as far as he's concerned, witnesses who failed to do anything are just as bad as those who were raping his classmate. The crime took place in a dimly lit high school courtyard, where community members say there should've been lights and a working security camera.

West Contra Costa County School Board Member Tony Thurmond was at the meeting. He says they're working to fix the structural security problems. But, he says, community-building is the key.

Mr. TONY THURMOND (Member, West Contra Costa County School Board): You can't fence or light every single area in any community. And at the end of the day, the best way to prevent a crime is in how we work with people. And we need to have a campaign of civility that lets people know that it's not okay to stand by when somebody's being hurt and not say anything or not say, don't do that or not, you know, report that to the authorities.

DORNHELM: The Richmond Police Department say there have been signs students want to cooperate. Lieutenant Mark Gagan is the department's public information officer.

Mr. MARK GAGAN (Public Information Officer, Richmond Police Department): We had officers on the school campus the next day, the first day after the assault happened. Several people approached the officers and told them, hey, this is what I'm hearing, this is a rumor, you know, I want to help with this. And the officers were telling me that these were people that don't normally interact with the police well they are suspicious of police.

DORNHELM: Gagan says this crime showed the worst people are capable of. But he says the community's response shows theres a lot of goodwill in Richmond, and people there are committed to making sure something like this doesn't happen again.

For NPR News, I'm Rachel Dornhelm in Richmond, California.

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