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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
Bruce Irushalmi, then the head of school security; and Carol Beck, then the principal of Thomas Jefferson High School. Lena Medley, principal of Thomas Jefferson High School at the time of this study, also refused to participate. We also did not interview any members of the victims’ families as we were unable to obtain contact information for them.
In addition to interviews, a number of outstanding books have been written on the East New York community. Luck was with us: journalistteacher Greg Donaldson’s book, The Ville: Kids and Cops in Urban America,4 based on his experiences in Brownsville and East New York in the 1991– 1992 period, included detailed reporting on the neighborhood of East New York, Thomas Jefferson High School, as well as the two episodes of school violence described here. Other books used to develop this case study include: Upon This Rock,5Getting Paid,6 and Will My Name Be Shouted Out?7 We collected news articles from The New York Times, New York Newsday, Time, Newsweek, as well as major newspapers from other U.S. cities. We obtained a copy of the record of Khalil Sumpter’s trial; Jason Bentley’s case did not go to trial, so no comparable record was available. Statistics on crime, school performance, and housing projects were collected from the appropriate city agencies.
Analysis of the qualitative data was conducted using Atlas.ti,8 a software package developed for the analysis of qualitative data. Detailed notes of all formal interviews were entered into Atlas.ti and coded for key themes that emerged from the data. Conceptual mapping was used to develop the relationships of the themes to each other. Ecological analysis was conducted using Infoshare, a geographical information system program for New York City that includes census and health data organized by zip code.
A draft of the case study was written and refined based on two processes. First, we assessed the accuracy of the manuscript in light of the raw data, including interview notes, articles, statistical information, and other literature, looking particularly for any data that might refute statements made in the text. Second, we sent copies of the draft to interviewees who had agreed to review and comment on it, including both Jason Bentley and Khalil Sumpter. The final version incorporated new information and comments from readers. The authors are entirely responsible for the content of the final document.
This case study has several limitations. First, the brief period of fieldwork limited our ability to understand the complexity of the East New York community. Second, the absence of some key actors and victims’ families from our dataset created a bias toward the “told” story. Third, the passage of time has obscured some parts of the story but made others clearer. To some extent, we are telling the story as it is known now, as