A large student fight over “turf” at the troubled West Philadelphia High School led to the arrest of 23 students and minor injuries to two police officers, officials said. “The school went into lockdown,” said Fernando Gallard, spokesman for the school district, adding that at least two students face suspension and others are likely to be suspended as the investigation unfolds.
The disturbance comes while the school’s new principal is trying to control serious assaults that generated large concern last year. It also comes at a time when juvenile gang violence appears to be on the rise. Officials said yesterday they are taking a close look at those involved with the brawl and the motive.
“We’re going to determine whether it’s organized gangs or just groups of kids brawling,” said Capt. Charles Bloom of the Criminal Intelligence Unit, which investigates gang activity and responded to yesterday’s incident.
Police spokeswoman Officer Tanya Little said police were called to the school at 4700 Walnut St. shortly before 11 a.m. over a “turf” fight between students from West Philadelphia and Southwest Philadelphia. During the melee, two officers received minor injuries and at least 23 students were arrested on disorderly conduct and assault charges, police said.
Outside the high school yesterday afternoon, a woman who declined to give her name said the incident was “a shame on the school district,” adding that students there to learn are worried about being jumped and beat up. Gallard said the incident started as a “mutual” fight on the second floor between two students, meaning both agreed to fight each other. The two students, a 17-year-old 11th-grader and a 16-year-old ninth-grader, were then brought to the discipline office.
While the two students were in the office, Gallard said others tried to force their way into the office to confront one of the students. At that time both students were with a police officer assigned to the high school.
That officer called for assistance, prompting numerous cars to respond for backup and resulting in a large police presence. The school was in lockdown for 40 minutes during the height of the chaos. Gallard said he did not know what the fight was about.
Police said the brawl may have been the result of a dispute that started at 9 a.m. between two students that led to another fight, with the situation escalating through the morning. Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives said it does not appear that the fight is gang-related, but rather, “it’s just a bunch of bullies.”
West Philadelphia High School was the scene of major disruption last year after a rash of teacher assaults. The principal was replaced, and chaos continued as a series of small fires were set in the building. The school also had two small fires set last week.
Earlier this month, several West Philadelphia High School students were involved in an incident in which two girls were slashed while they waited at a bus stop at 48th and Spruce Streets, about two blocks from the school.
But Pat O’Hara, a teacher and union representative at the high school, said the overall environment at the school has improved this year and that the administration handled yesterday’s incident well. “The thing that people seemed to like is that they’re really taking a strong stance against kids who are doing the wrong thing. Hopefully, we’ll see less and less as the year goes on,” he said.
O’Hara said there hasn’t been any organized gang activity at the school, but that students who belong to different street groups sometimes fight. “This is more neighborhood stuff than gang stuff,” he said.
Sorry to say it but Im from West Philly but me, Will Smith, Wilt Chamberlain and others attended the great Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia and not West Philadelphia High.
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