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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
opposed to how it happened then. We were aware of all of these issues throughout the data collection and analysis and attempted to balance the effects when possible.
The institutional review boards of Columbia University, the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and the National Research Council approved this study.
“Let’s Finish It Now”
Jason Bentley grew up in East New York, a bright child protected by loving parents.9 He did well in school through the first six grades. His life, however, was deeply affected by living in a neighborhood that was engulfed in violent drug wars. Jason saw violence in the neighborhood from a very young age. He was, as well, surrounded by a crime-dominated street world that had a powerful allure for boys. An event in eighth grade stood out in his mind: he had the opportunity to go to a Catholic high school, but he decided not to take the scholarship test. This was, as he saw it, a decision to follow his brother on what he called in 2001 “the wrong path”: the path of the streets. At about the same age, he started to carry a gun, thinking that he needed it for protection.
In October of Jason’s freshman year at Thomas Jefferson High School, a small dispute began. As he recalled, a friend had tried to “talk to a girl.” When she said she wasn’t interested, the boy called her a “bitch.” She reported this to her brother, incorrectly naming Jason’s older brother, Jermaine, as the person who had “disrespected” her. This led to “beef”— a word used in East New York to refer to interpersonal disputes—between Jermaine and the girl’s brother, Jesse Thompson. The beef escalated over the ensuing month. Jermaine was not particularly competent by the standards of the streets of East New York. Jason, who was not only loyal but also protective, was brought into the beef on his brother’s side.
Jason, who had been cutting class a great deal, remembered going to school on November 25, 1991, with the intention of going to class and attending to school work.10 His brother Jermaine’s midmorning call for help changed that plan. Jermaine needed his brother’s aid to confront Jesse Thompson in the hallway on the third floor of the school. At first the two were fighting, and others were interceding to break it up. Just as the combatants were pulled apart, Jason thought he heard someone say, “Let’s finish it now.” Jason, watching Thompson reach for his book bag, thought that Thompson was planning to get out a gun and shoot his brother and him. Jason pulled out his gun and fired off two shots. “I did what I had to do,” he told us.11 One shot hit a fellow student, Daryl Sharpe, who was