Events of Deadly Relevance

An armed stand-off at ASU

Just eight days ago, on April 25, Craig Malmstrom entered an Arizona State University classroom armed with a semi-automatic 9mm pistol.

When he confronted three blacks who were giving a presentation to the class, Malmstrom had one bullet advanced into the chamber and the safety was off. He carried two clips of ammunition, giving him 31 rapid-firing rounds.

Malmstrom had already startled classmates with virulently bigoted remarks in the aftermath of recent racial unrest at ASU.

Incredibly, not a single word on this potentially deadly stand-off was carried by the Phoenix dailies, which have shown themselves reluctant to publish the continued evidence of widespread racism at ASU. But no one in that classroom will ever forget how close they came to bloodshed.

The lecture by two former members of the Bloods and an ex-member of New York's Shadows--a chapter of the Zulu Nation--was designed to give students in the "Police Functions" class a street-level understanding of black gangs.

As part of the demonstration, a student training to be a cop had frisked one of the Bloods. Following the pat-down, the ex-gang member reached into his pants and produced a small caliber pistol the trainee had missed. After showing that there was no ammunition and that the firing pins were removed, the three ex-gang members--all of whom are studying at ASU--passed around weapons favored by the Bloods and Crips as well as a package of simulated crack. Ten minutes into the lecture, Malmstrom barged out of the class. He returned visibly shaken, with the 9mm automatic partially concealed in his waistband.

Although most of the class saw little more than that something clearly was agitating Malmstrom, a handful of others in the back of the room spotted the 9mm pistol.

"My heart dropped when I saw him put his hand over the gun," said Amy Osborne. "I got up and left the class. I thought I was going to be shot in the back."

The five students who fled the classroom ran to a phone and dialed 911.
Back inside, jaws clenched, cotton balls jammed inside his ears, sweat pouring off his face, Malmstrom demanded that the three blacks produce cleared gun chambers. "Now!"

As the students began looking nervously at each other, the campus police were already arriving outside the room. Both classes on either side of the stand-off were evacuated.

At first the three black men--Michael Simmons, Nick Merkerson, and Randy Jefferson--did not realize the enormity of the threat they faced.

"When I saw him, I thought he was sick, you know, ill," said Merkerson. "He was sweating, he had cotton balls in his ears. But the people at his table were visibly frightened. He said something about checking the guns, and when I started telling him, they were empty, he just yelled, `Now!'

"Then I noticed his weapon. You don't go get a loaded weapon to check out the safety of the class. If you're concerned, you go get a cop, like the other students did. But when I noticed he had his own gun, I thought, `Yo, Mike, let's go home.'"

Mike is Michael Simmons, an injured ASU football player and a former member of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Bloods who had organized the presentation. He is also a member of the class.

"He [Malmstrom] looked very, very unstable," said Simmons. "He wanted to see all the weapons, empty. We think he may have been looking for a confrontation, and if we'd confronted him, well . . . with a weapon like that, he could have gone crazy."

The police asked Malmstrom to step out of the classroom and that's when Simmons acted.

"Hey, there's trouble here," said Simmons to Malmstrom. "You've got a lot of people nervous. I'd appreciate it if you'd hand me the gun. Put it in your backpack, then give it to me."

At six feet seven inches and 315 pounds, Simmons' mere presence can be, by turns, reassuring and intimidating. Whatever reaction Malmstrom had to the request--when contacted, he refused to discuss the events--he did turn over the 9mm pistol.

"You could tell the guy had gone psycho," said classmate Kena Contrearas. "He was just waiting for Michael to say the wrong thing."

"Just the look on Malmstrom's face was terrifying," said student Rose Choulet. "His eyes were glazed, he was shaking and out of control. That's when I got scared. I remember his eyes."

A former policeman, Dr. Armand Hernandez, teaches the Justice Studies class.

"Man, he was uptight. He was sweating, his body was rigid. It almost seemed like he was trying to provoke an incident," said Hernandez. "If the blacks had said the wrong thing, we'd have had dead people."

When the police searched the room, they seized the 9mm pistol as well as the two clips. Malmstrom was released after receiving three misdemeanor citations and has since been suspended from the university.

Sitting through the lecture was a fourth black, Darren Viner. It was Viner who'd been the target of Malmstrom's most recent racist remarks.

"He could have wiped a lot of us out," said Viner. "It could have been another McDonald's, like in San Diego, where that gunman killed all those people."

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