PATERSON, NJ - Officials say there has been a recent increase in fights among Kennedy High students near the school at dismissal time, especially confrontations between black and Dominican youths.
City police say they have had an "extra presence" at Kennedy, as well as at Eastside, for more than a month and education officials are planning a meeting among students to try to resolve the tensions. Parents and officials say some groups of students have armed themselves with baseball bats after school and there have been reports from parents and one teacher - which authorities have not confirmed -of students having machetes.
"I tried to call everybody about the situation and it's like they don't care,'' said Latinya Sinclair, whose 16-year-old son is a junior at the school. "If my son gets stabbed, I'm coming after the school and I'm coming after the police. Where is the protection?''
Sinclair said her son and several other black students recently were jumped by Dominican youths who she said mistook them for a group called the "Westside Boys.'' There were large brawls after school in the Kennedy neighborhood several times in the past two weeks, she said.
A teacher at Kennedy, who asked to remain anonymous, said the situation has created fears among students not involved in the fighting.
"It's out of control,'' said Councilman Aslon Goow, who represents the 2nd Ward, where Kennedy is located. The problem goes beyond racial rivalries between the black and Dominican students, Goow said.
Several weeks ago, an area resident walking through West Side park was attacked by three youths wearing Kennedy school uniforms after dismissal time, Goow said. Moreover, teens have been robbing onions and potatoes from area grocery stores and throwing them at passing vehicles, Goow said.
During the fall there had been a similar surge in after school violence near Eastside, including one instance in which several black youth badly beat members of a Dominican family at laundromat on Park Avenue.
After the city's decision last spring to lay off more than a dozen school crossing guards, police officers have been assigned to those posts in the mornings and afternoons. That has left fewer cops on patrol at those times of day, officials said.
But city law enforcement officials say they have shifted manpower to address the problems at Paterson's two main high schools. "All I can say is we have extra presence at both high schools,'' said Deputy Police Chief Danny Nichols.
In response to complaints from parents, the school district is planning a meeting with students to try to curtail the problem, said spokeswoman Terry Corallo.
City Council President Anthony Davis, who represents the 1st ward, which has many Kennedy students, said he has heard about the fighting. "I'm investigating what's going on,'' Davis said.
Paterson Schools Commissioner Pedro Rodriguez, who lives on the city's North Side, said he doesn't think the Kennedy fighting has become as bad as the situation was at Eastside in the fall. But, Rodriguez warned, February tends to become a volatile time for the city's racial tensions. Not only is it black history month, but Dominican Independence Day falls on February 27.
"You see an increase in fights,'' Rodriguez said. "People show their flags and wave them in the other guy's face and then he gets ticked off and the fight starts.''