That’s what the youths tried to convey Tuesday afternoon on Richmond High’s football field.
A band played, students read poetry, dancers performed. The lineup of speakers for a vigil supporting the 15-year-old raped on campus two weekends ago featured a platoon of elected officials and nonprofit directors, even a statement from the victim read aloud.
“Violence is always a wrong choice. We realize people are angry about this, but let the anger cause change; that is necessary to keep our children, our neighbors and our friends safe,” DeAnna Schlau, an advocate for Community Violence Solutions, read from the victim’s statement. “We thank you for your love and support and your ongoing prayers.”
Meanwhile, the 200 to 300 students in attendance did little talking, at least in front of the microphones. But Richmond High was talking.
“It’s beautiful to see the community come together,” Richmond High senior Abel Pineda said. The attack “has brought attention to a serious issue. We want to take this opportunity to take action, and do something about it.”
Richmond residents, particularly young people, have taken a beating in the court of public opinion following the Oct. 24 attack, for which five suspects are charged.
The victim got drunk in a dark campus courtyard with a group of other young people, while the homecoming dance took place in the gym, and after she fell semiconscious, her companions beat, robbed and gang-raped her
repeatedly for about two hours, police say.
That onlookers watched and did nothing, even laughed and joked during the attack, shook the nation and provoked outrage and criticism from all corners. Strangers pointed the finger at Richmond youths, calling them immoral and likening them to animals — that just from e-mails received by Richmond High during the first days after the attack.
Few mentioned that a group of young people, some of them Richmond High students, called 911 to help the victim as soon as they learned of the attack.
“I want to state to everyone here, and everyone outside of Richmond … we are Richmond!” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin told the crowd. “This is the community coming together. This is our community.”
Those attending Tuesday’s rally included Principal Julio Franco, Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia, West Contra Costa school district Superintendent Bruce Harter and school board members Antonio Medrano and Tony Thurmond.
At a Richmond City Council meeting later Tuesday, police Chief Chris Magnus said law enforcement and school district officials have met to talk about improving campus security and promised to coordinate their efforts better. Plans include
roving patrols at school events, including checks of the perimeter of the campus.
Some residents have volunteered to help provide security. Magnus urged parents to do the same.
“We need more parents to step up,” he said.
In addition, officials will work with Community Violence Solutions, which operates a rape crisis hot line and offers support to survivors, to look at how to include lessons about peer pressure and bystander behavior as part of school curricula.
Police data show that sexual assaults around school campuses in the city are rare. Rapes were reported a few blocks from the Kennedy and Gompers campuses in 2008 — both unrelated to the school or school activities, though one victim was a student.
Police say a 17-year-old from De Anza High School went to Juvenile Hall in October 2008 in connection with the rape of a 15-year-old girl on campus during school hours. City police have investigated 33 rapes in 2009, compared with 37 in all of 2008 and 31 in all of 2007.
Donations for the Richmond High School rape victim may be sent to: Richmond High Jane Doe, account No. 041-30-1188, Mechanics Bank, 3170 Hilltop Mall Road, Richmond, CA 94806.