George Bentley, principal of PS227, stood behind the steel fiber reinforced window in his office and watched the chaos in the hallway. He didn’t know which was worst, corralling the students into classrooms in the mornings or herding them off campus in the afternoons. Both were dangerous for him and his faculty. When the kids were outside their classrooms, school administrators, faculty, and staff remained behind locked doors for their protection. Supervision duties such as hall duty and cafeteria duty were things of the past. Such duties were simply too dangerous. Venturing into the hallways during class breaks or before and after school without an armed escort meant hospital time if not worse.
All public schools were basically the same. They were little more than holding tanks for the “have nots” and the unwanted. Public schools in 2049 were the consequence of over thirty years of public school privatization and rampant school choice that literally syphoned the life from public schools. Left segregated along socioeconomic lines, poor whites and minorities who were no longer the minority wandered the hallways stripped of hope and their value to humanity. Simply put, public schools symbolized the new segregated America.
Unfortunate teachers not recruited by the Corporate, Arts, and Athletic charters and academies taught from the confines of chain link steel cages bolted to the floor at the front of their classrooms. School buses were equipped with steel cages to protect the drivers and military-like sweeps through the buildings conducted by loosely trained assault teams known as STAF (School Tactical Advance Forces) were the norm in public schools across the nation. This was school of the mid-21st century – a cesspool operated under the guise of education – holding pens for throwaway juveniles.
The Corporate Education recruitment poster on Bentley’s wall depicted students studying quietly and listening respectfully to a teacher walking freely about the classroom. It was a throwback to a time when education held promise not only for the affluent and talented, but for less blessed children as well. Unfortunately, the promise ended when America washed its hands of public schools, and politically and socially branded them a lost cause.
A book ricocheted off the window sending Bentley recoiling against the wall. Embarrassed by his reaction, anger and helplessness flooded him. He jerked around to face the window and slammed a fist against the glass. The window shook, but thankfully the reinforced glass held. Outside the window, a tall dark haired boy shouldering a bulky book bag stared at him from the hallway. Laughing, he motioned for Bentley to join him. Bentley knew better. He pushed the purple riot button next to window to call for STAF.
A cute girl with long sandy blonde hair walked up to the boy and began shaking her finger in his face. Bentley recognized her as a new student. Her registration had caused quite a stir among the clerical staff and faculty. Her parents actually accompanied her to register which was unheard of at PS227. Now just as mysteriously, she was in the face of one of the most feared bullies in the school. Both fascinated and alarmed, he watched as she continued to shake her finger at the boy who just stared at her blankly as a crowd began to gather around them. He pounded his fists against the glass until she turned to look at him. “RUN!” he screamed at the glass, knowing she could not hear him.
As she looked at Bentley and tried to understand what he was saying, the boy slid the bulky book bag from his shoulder and swung the loaded bag in a high ark above his head bringing it down hard against her left cheek. Her knees buckled, and she dropped face first against the unforgiving floor tiles. The crowd went wild cheering and giving high-fives. Laughing and bowing to his audience, the boy stood over his fallen prey and rolled her on her back with the toe of his shoe. Blood flowed from a deep gash above her right eye where her head hit the floor; her left cheek was red and swollen from the impact of the bag. Mocking her, pointing and shaking his finger, he spit in her bloodied unconscious face. Bending over her, he ran his fingers across her face, and then turned to Bentley behind the window and smeared his bloody fingers across the glass.
Behind the safety of the reinforced glass, Bentley clinched his fists in anger. He took a step toward the door and grabbed the knob before he thought better and released it. Where was STAF? Someone had to do something. The mob outside his window grew wilder. Several girls stepped from the pulsating mass, looked at the injured girl, and spit on her before returning triumphantly to their cheering friends.
A tall thin Hispanic youth whom Bentley recognized as Roberto Salinto, a ranking member of the Doric Disciples stepped from the crowd. Salinto spoke to the boy, and when the boy, encouraged by the crowd, said something back, he slapped him hard silencing the crowd. The dark-haired boy swung his book bag, but Salinto stepped aside easily and drew a heavy silver chain from around his waist. The chain whistled as it cut the air and slammed into the boy’s jaw dropping him unconscious to the floor next to the girl.
Salinto smiled at the crumpled body and knelt next to the girl. Running his fingers in a figure eight around her breasts and up the slender slope of her throat, his hand stopped at the gold chain around her neck. He spoke to her, but there was no response. He jerked on the chain – breaking it free, and stood as four STAF officers stepped through the crowd waving Tasers. The officers saw Salinto and froze; their eyes locked with his. He stared at them coldly, and calmly walked pass them back into the crowd disappearing instantly.
The commanding STAF officer barked a command at the mob, and they took a step back. “Gentlemen, we have five minutes to get this event under control, and get out of here,” he shouted. “Check the girl, and see if she can be moved.”
An officer knelt next to her and felt along the back of her neck and along her shoulders. When he saw her legs move, he snapped an ammonia capsule and shoved it under her nose. She recoiled against the harsh burn of the chemical, and instinctively pushed his hand away. “Give me a hand,” he called. “There doesn’t appear to be any serious injuries. The quicker she’s on her feet the quicker we get out of here.”
Another officer joined him, and the two of them helped the girl to her feet. She wavered unsteadily for a moment clinging to both of them for support. The first officer spoke to her, and she nodded pointing to the boy on the floor. Concerned by the seconds ticking away, the commander barked orders to four more STAF officers arriving on the scene. The four grabbed an arm and leg and carried the boy toward the front doors of the school where a black van emblazoned with “STAF” across its sides waited.
An alarm blasted! At the far end of the hall a red banner could be seen over the heads of a second more organized group moving toward the event. The commanding officer’s ear radio buzzed to life with the voice of the Advanced Warning Dispatcher, “Sir, the Disciples are on the move. You have maybe a minute before your current event escalates.”
“Time to move,” the commanding officer snapped at his men. Immediately, they began to ease back in the direction of the van keeping the crowd, now growing bolder with the advancement of the red banner, at bay with the threat of the Tasers. “Is the girl hurt badly?” he said to the officers supporting the girl.
“She’s pretty banged up, but I don’t believe there’s anything broken or life threatening,” said the first officer.
“Then leave her,” said the commanding officer, “and get to the van.”
“But sir,” the first officer protested.
“I am not going to allow this event to escalate beyond Tasers, so drop her where she is, or a lot of people are about to get hurt, and hurt bad! You know the drill! We’ve got to move and move now! You know the rules of engagement, so move!”
The two officers looked at the wavering girl for a moment, and sat her gently on the floor before breaking into a full run to the waiting van. Left reaching, the girl struggled to her knees but collapsed as George Bentley accompanied by two STAF officers stepped from the office door into the hallway. The Disciples broke into a run toward them. The officers grabbed the girl and carried her through the door into the office with Bentley fast on their heels. As he pushed the door closed behind him he met resistance. A booted foot was wedged in the door preventing it from closing. Laying the girl on the office floor, the two officers rushed to his aid. Hands shot through the space between the door and the jam and pushed to open the door. The space grew wider. Seeing they were losing the battle, one of the officers stepped back and released the strap holding his rifle to his shoulder. “Oh, God,” Bentley thought, “please don’t shoot.”
The officer flipped the rifle and slammed the butt end hard against the leather ankle of the boot wedged in the door. The ankle snapped loudly followed by a scream and the boot vanished from the opening. Bentley and the second officer drove their shoulders into the door feeling it crunch against the fingers clawing and pushing at the shrinking opening. Finally, with a final push, the hands withdrew amid screams, and the door slammed shut. The Disciples went wild rushing and banging on the door, and then as if on cue they stopped, gave each other a few congratulatory back-slaps and high fives, and walked away as if nothing had ever happened.
The STAF commander waited ten minutes for the students to disperse, and then moved his men back into the hallways and herded straggling students to class. Bentley watched from the safety of his office mentally and physically drained by yet another confrontation, but thankful no one had been seriously injured or killed. The girl most likely had a concussion along with abrasions and bruises, but given some time, she would recover – at least physically. STAF’ had once again prevented a minor event from escalating into a major catastrophic event. Once again they followed the rules of engagement, but it was only a matter of time before there would no longer be rules to play by. He could only pray he was gone before that day arrived.
©Jack Linton, December 4, 2016