THE FREALITY OF THE "RIOT"

The police reports describing the South Mountain High School riot are written in the idiom of men apparently striving to emulate the literary style of a veteran sergeant.

All drama is drained. The tone is monotonous. The repetition of phrases fogs the reader's mind. But after you've read enough police reports, your mind breaks through the "officialese." You are finally able to understand the events being described.

There is even a minute-by-minute recounting of riot developments at the very time they were taking place that Thursday, October 13.

But we are left with a lingering question. Was it actually a riot? Or was it simply a series of disturbances blown out of proportion by the media?

Nowhere in any police reports released to date are there any indications that the event was planned.

Although gang involvement was initially given as a cause, no further evidence for that assertion has ever been offered.

So, again, we are faced with troubling questions. Is South Mountain High School too overcrowded, or is it impossible for black and Hispanic students to coexist on the same campus?

Here are some excerpts of a report written by Phoenix police officer William Gadberry, who was on the South Mountain campus taking a criminal damage report. While completing the damage report, Gadberry was told by a school security guard that fights had started breaking out all over the school.

The security guard told Officer Gadberry it was a gang thing between the Crips and Bloods, stemming from a shooting that had taken place several days before. In the many pages of police reports that I read, this is the only mention of gang rivalry as a cause of the riot.

Here is part of Gadberry's account:
"11:40 a.m.: School security related to me that there were fights breaking out on campus in the general quad area of the high school and that I needed to get more officers. They had eight security officers already on campus. I was told the fights were over the shooting on Desert Road on Saturday night, and it was a Crips and Bloods thing."

From another report:
"Units were on the way to the scene. The fights were breaking out on the east side of the campus, and as we got to the area, fights broke out on the west side of the campus. There were approximately 1,200 students in the quad area at this time and running in all directions. There [were] rocks and bottles and cans flying."

From still another report:
"1:00 p.m.: A large fight at South Mountain High. The call was put out to all precincts for any and all additional units to respond reference this large fight."

In the first roundup by police and school security guards, 18 South Mountain High students were arrested. They were all between the ages of 16 and 19. There were eight black males, eight Hispanic males and two black females.

A police command post was set up at the football field next to the bleachers. Rushing to the scene was a full array of police brass, all under the direction of Commander Ron Bates.

What follows are excerpts of a minute-by-minute police narrative of the riot:

"1:32 p.m.: Rocks and bottles being thrown between Eighth and Ninth streets just north of Roeser. Additional units requested.

"1:37 p.m.: Students were sprayed with Mace and complaining about being sick. We need to know where they go for first aid.

"1:43 p.m.: Request another traffic motor to go to Sixth Street and Sunland to assist in traffic.

"1:45 p.m.: Request to know whether kids are in or out of school. Some students are still in classes and being held until other students causing problem have left the area.

"1:48 p.m.: Advisory that there are still 3,000 kids in classrooms who still need buses for transportation.

"1:59 p.m.: Captain Denny of Department of Public Safety arrives. He advises that he has seven squads of officers available if needed.

"2:00 p.m.: Captain Denny advised to go ahead and start DPS units to the school.

"2:04 p.m.: Commander Bates requests that Captain Denny take the units he has on the scene into the quad to sweep the area.

"2:05 p.m.: Buses come on campus to remove kids from school. Unknown supervisor asks if there are hot spots. Per command, none known.

"2:09 p.m.: Advised there are 500 students still in classes. Request to let them go. Per command, do not let them go at this point.

"2:12 p.m.: All students will be released at same time but send all parents picking up students to administration building.

"2:30 p.m.: Release all students order given.
"2:42 p.m.: Command advises there are 15 students in custody at the security office.

"2:59 p.m.: Command all units to start breaking it down. All supervisors report to command post.

"3:07 p.m.: Sergeant Ron Vasquez gives briefing to command staff and supervisors as to what started the fight. Please see Officer Gadberry's original report regarding as to how this incident started."

Here is what Sergeant Vasquez told the police command staff:
"At approximately 12:40 p.m., I responded to a request for assistance at the South Mountain High School, 5401 South Seventh Street. There was a very large disturbance at the school, and security officers were under attack.

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