Gang Tension : At School, Survival Comes First

Times Staff Writer

In theory, Edwin Markham Intermediate School is neutral ground. Crips territory stretches to the east, past a low, graffiti-slashed wall and the Southern Pacific railroad tracks. Bloods claim the turf to the west. Often they parade by the school on bikes or in cars, waving red bandanas--their “rags.”

From both sides, more than 1,600 children arrive for class each weekday. Sixth- through eighth-graders, and a few dozen ninth-graders in special programs, pass abruptly from the troubled neighborhoods of Watts to 24 acres of classic campus architecture.

But even at Markham, with its low-slung brick buildings and its grassy quad, the gangs cannot be left behind. At Markham, “Everybody gets confronted and everybody has to deal with it,” says ninth-grader Arnold Gordon. (Like all of the current students in this article, his name has been changed.)


Any Inner-City School

This is the story of Markham’s fall semester, which ended Friday--a story that could have unfolded at any number of inner-city schools in Los Angeles.

Life at Markham has been a daily campaign to preserve a bastion of civility amid the subtle tensions of gang culture, a constant game of what-might-happen-next. Teachers sermonize against gangs and try, with varying degrees of success, to get lessons across. Parents and neighbors escort 12- and 13-year-old charges to and from school. Administrators struggle to sift real dangers from imagined ones.

And students often opt for survival strategies that prevent them from taking full advantage of what school has to offer:

--Fear of Crips classmates propels Franklin Jenkins away from a physical education class and over a fence.

--Teewana Miller refuses to eat lunch--too much turmoil, too much risk--at the cafeteria. She is fueled instead by candy from the school store.

--Eighth-grader Alfred Hill says, “I get fails that I don’t deserve,” because he cannot concentrate in class. “Instead I think: Are they going to jump me after school?”

--Dwayne McDaniel brings a screwdriver to class because a couple of students asked him if he was a Blood. “I have to defend myself,” he says.

Adolescent years are difficult for any child, but at Markham, the usual confusions are compounded. For most Markham students, who attended elementary school in their own neighborhoods, intermediate school is their first sustained exposure to children from other gangs’ turf. At an age when many youngsters are making decisions about their relationship to the neighborhood gang, also known as a “set,” there is suddenly a reason to join: a need for protection.

“Gangbangers” make up a significant minority--10% by the administration’s estimate; students put the figure closer to 30%. A typical Markham student would not belong to a gang but would certainly know and even be friendly with a classmate who does. Such relationships can be hazardous.

In class, gangbangers whisper greetings (“Hey, Cuz” among the Crips or “Hey, Blood” among the Bloods). They hiss insults to rivals. They “throw signs”--bending fingers to form “C,” for Crip, or “CK,” for Crip Killer, “B” for Blood, or “BK” for Blood Killer. Between classes, they threaten those in clothes that feature enemy gang colors, or those who simply live in enemy gang neighborhoods. They stare and shove and step on shoes.

Campus Police

The containment effort is omnipresent. Security aides clutch walkie-talkies; two school policemen carry .38-caliber revolvers and Mace. At the eighth-grade welcoming assembly, an assistant principal offers this advice: “It is insane to run over whenever there’s some fight going on. . . . This is not a Saturday morning cartoon. . . . Are you aware that most of the people killed have not been in gangs, they have been innocent bystanders?”

The principal, Hal Kimbell Jr., devotes a lot of time to gang control. Before and after school, he drives the streets near the campus and urges others in the community to do the same. Operation Safe Corridors, he calls it. He works out schemes to catch intruders and puzzles over the dress code.

“If we didn’t have to worry about this and could concentrate on education, think how much we could do,” Kimbell says.

But he does have to worry. Most tough-talking kids merely hope to gain a gang’s acceptance; in general, they are too young to be gang leaders. But they still can be dangerous at school. Kimbell and his security staff wonder what the diminutive “gangsters” might do to impress the older Crips loitering on the tracks, the hard-core Bloods hanging out across the street. And they worry whether older boys will decide to avenge slights against their younger brothers, cousins and hangers-on inside the school fence.

Innocent Victim

Once, more than four years ago, the worst fears were realized. During morning nutrition break on May 7, 1984, a Blood fired at least five times through the fence into a knot of children--”Crips and Crip associates,” as court records put it. The gunman had earlier fought at Markham with a Crip student. Ninth-grader Ronzell Pointer, an innocent victim, was wounded and died 15 days later.

It is impossible to know when students are pretending to be threatened by a gang as an excuse to change schedules, to stay out of class, to fight . . . or if serious harm--maybe death--is near.

As a result, says Kimbell, “We have to stay on top of it. You have to be vigilant. You cannot let up.”

As 8 a.m. approaches on Sept. 14, children pour through the gate by the tracks. Many wear the purple of the Grape Street Crips from the Jordan Downs housing project or the blue of the PJ (for Pro-Jects) Watts Crips from Imperial Courts. A few wear the dark brown of a newer group, called Fudgetown.

They also stream through the Compton Avenue gate, many in red for the Bloods sets--the Bounty Hunters of Nickerson Gardens, the Hacienda Boys of Hacienda Village.

In Room 6, Pat Rice is expecting a good semester. It will be her 27th year of teaching, her fourth at Markham--English and music this time. Rice thinks she might be able to work against the influence of the gang sets.

But her optimism is tempered by her husband’s warnings. Though she grew up upper-middle-class in New Orleans, he attended Markham. “If they didn’t have campus security, my husband wouldn’t let me work here,” Rice says. “He remembers from when he was growing up, how they looked at do-gooders, how they ripped them off.”

Students’ World

Rice’s first batch of essays offer a reminder of her students’ world. “I watched ‘Double Dare,’ ‘Treasure Wall,’ ‘Slime Time’ and ‘Finders Keepers’ on TV and lots of other shows,” 13-year-old Tarisha Martin writes about her summer. “I also was seeing a lot of gang-related fights in the project, shoot-outs and other things. We also had a family day at our gym.”

“What is your favorite color?” is another question. “Every Body Wares Blue,” writes Alfred, 13, who lives in the Crip zone. Asked to finish the sentence: “I hate to,” he writes: “Die.”

Fred Williams and Jim Goins, the drop-out prevention team known as Mr. Fred and Mr. Jim, sit in their office, a former science lab. They enroll students at elementary schools. But this year, for the first time, they will be based at Markham.

Through the window they spy five young men along the tracks. “Hey, look who’s here!” Williams calls.

The boys wear the gangbangers’ uniform of baggy khaki or black pants and white T-shirts. One of them, Marco Nolan, wears his trousers so low that the purple stripes on his boxer shorts signal his allegiance to Grape Street.

Gang Styles

Goins shakes his head. “They don’t even know why (gang members) wear their pants like that,” he says. “It’s because they don’t give you belts in prison.”

On Bradley Payne’s back pocket is embroidered WBLC--Watts Baby Loc Crips--a sort of junior auxiliary to the Grapes. WVG, for Watts Varrios Grapes, is another name for the set. ( Varrios is a corruption of barrios. With the Latino population burgeoning in Southeast Los Angeles, black gangs are integrating.)

A purple bandanna hangs out of Khalil Collins’ pants. “Put that rag in your pocket,” Williams tells him.

The group is escorted to the multipurpose room to register for classes.

Later that day, Khalil’s bandanna is back on display. It becomes the first of the term to be confiscated.

The dismissal bell rings, and the children who had flooded in that morning flow back out. At the Blood gate, a girl rushes, agitated, up to a school policeman in plainclothes. Husky and bespectacled, his name is Calvin Bell.

“Some Crips just come up and started messing with these little sixth-graders,” the girl says, her words piling into each other. “The first day of school, Mr. Bell!

“They called me a slob,” she says. “Do I look like a slob?”

“No, you don’t,” Bell says softly. “I’ll check it out. You go on home.”

“If you want to make a Blood mad, you call him a slob,” says Davita Wilson.

“If you want to make a Crip mad, you say E-ricket,” Teewana Miller says. “Or they call you a crab. But we say that means, ‘Crips Rule All Bloods.’ ”

Day Two. At 9:04 a.m., the public-address system crackles. In 72 classrooms, Kimbell’s voice introduces Robert T. Thomas, assistant principal in charge of discipline.

“Certain events occurred yesterday,” Thomas begins. “Certain students wanted to start grouping, wanted to appear the big man, intimidating our new students. . . .”

At lunchtime, some Crips had led about a dozen sixth-graders to tables where Bloods usually gather. Security aides stepped in to prevent a clash.

“The three youngsters who wanted to be leaders, quote-unquote, are no longer with us,” Thomas says.

From this point on, he warns, “No wearing of colors, no showing of rags, red or blue. Boys, no earrings. Shoestrings: blue, red or purple--not acceptable. No caps or hats and any other symbols that you thought of over the summer.”

Principal’s Warning

Many of Pat Rice’s seventh-graders gaze straight ahead. Others study their desktops.

“Now, I want to tell you sixth-graders,” Thomas continues. “We’re going to make this a safe place for you to learn. If you are approached by anyone or any group, please let an adult know.”

He ends with a warning: “To you wannabees: Remain invisible.”

Later, Rice raises the subject with an eighth-grade English class. “I’m going to ask a question about Mr. Thomas and Mr. Kimbell’s announcement. How many of you heard it?”


She tells the class about one of her students last year who took bullets in both legs in a shoot-out at a pick-up football game at nearby Jordan High. She mentions her after-school helper, beaten last year on the way home because she had worn red, blue and purple all together.

No one looks at Rice, but everyone is listening. In the back row sit two boys in khaki pants and white T-shirts. One boy nervously sticks a pen in his mouth, draws it out, sticks it back in again, over and over. The other sucks his thumb.

Teacher’s Lecture

“You cannot let these gangbanging people keep you from going to school and learning and going on with your life,” Rice says, her voice rising.

But it doesn’t take long for gang tension to surface in her class.

Eugene Kirk is short and slight, with close-cut hair and a deep voice. Dashonda Davis says she wants to be a nurse someday. They are friendly the first days of school; everyone who watches them thinks the friendship will ripen into romance.

Then Eugene spoils it, reciting Grape Street slogans. He had been “courted in” during sixth grade with an after-school fight in the parking lot of a fried-chicken stand. He has a gang name, Gator. He claims to own a .22-caliber pistol.

After school, he turns his black leather belt over, showing purple snakeskin. He plans to buy purple pants and a sweat shirt when he gets the money.

Gang Affiliation

This doesn’t sit well with Dashonda. “I’m PJ,” she says. The Grapes and the PJs don’t get along despite a common affiliation with the Crips.

Over the weeks, conversation between Eugene and Dashonda turns nasty. “Pissy J,” Eugene whispers, showing disrespect for her set. “Peanut butter and jelly.”

“Fake Street,” Dashonda responds.

In math class, where the teacher has less control, their tiffs are even more disruptive. “In math,” says Dashonda, “I never finish my assignments. . . .

“(Today) I wrote ‘PJ’ on the floor real big. I wrote WVG and crossed it out. He pushed me and I slapped him.”

Eugene already has enough problems. He is trying to transfer out of gym class; he says it’s full of Bloods wanting to fight.

Now here comes Dashonda, saying to Eugene in front of her homeboys, “Didn’t you say ‘PJ Killer?’ ”

He tells the girls from Grape Street how Dashonda is trying to get him beat up. He hopes they’ll soon take care of her.

Good things happen at Markham as well. The school won the prestigious citywide academic decathlon Super Quiz in 1987 and 1988; this year, 400 students tried out for 12 slots on the team. The health careers magnet program attracted 160 students from around the city. The business of school--grammar, algebra, music--proceeds.

But there are more troubles than triumphs. The attendance rate last year was just 79%; only 57% of last year’s eighth-graders were eligible for graduation ceremonies. Test scores ranked well below the district average, except in the magnet school. And Markham ranked ninth among 64 junior high schools where district police reported incidents involving weapons.

Gangs cannot be blamed for all of this. At least one Markham student, living in a garage, has done homework by candlelight. Others stay out of class to watch younger siblings while parents work, or because they are ashamed of their clothes.

“If all of a sudden you just erased gangs and you brought (students) to school and you gave them the lessons, they would still go home to . . . problems,” says Carol Wister, the eighth-grade counselor. “They would still not do as well as a student who comes from a nice middle-class home.”

Difficulties Magnified

There is no denying, though, that gangs magnify the difficulties by adding fear to the mix.

On a classroom bulletin board, nine of 18 students list gangs as “what bugs me most about school.” When a journalism teacher discusses editorials, three girls suggest writing one about gangs at Markham. “This is just getting out of hand,” one says.

Every move requires forethought. As simple a matter as staying after school, for clubs or teams or a talk with a teacher, can be dangerous at Markham.

One day early in the term, for example, Michael Reardon and Frederick Johnson, who are brothers, decide to help a teacher with some chores. Michael cleans the blackboard; Frederick puts chairs on tables.

They take only a few minutes, but that is time enough for the procession of other children to end, time enough for the gangbangers to run home and change into their colors.

‘They Have Guns’

Heading home, to Fudgetown turf, the brothers see combatants on the railroad tracks, boys in red and boys in purple, throwing rocks and punches. A man tells the pair, “Don’t go that way. They have guns.” Michael and Frederick turn back.

A security aide at the school unlocks a gate so they can call their mother for a ride. And Michael, a sixth-grader, says he won’t stay late again, for any reason.

Cousins Peter Casey and Gordon Terry leave on time each day with an escort. Their uncle, Frank Thompson, waits at the front entrance, his gangly, dark-suited frame a beacon of protection.

Thompson started escorting his nephews after some Bloods threatened Gordon one day on the way home. Gordon wore a belt buckle with a “G” on it. The Bloods insisted it stood for Grape.

This was a sign of trouble, and Thompson has had enough of trouble.

Ex-Gang Member

At 24, Thompson knows about gangs. He belonged to the Fruit Town Brims, a Bloods set, before becoming a Christian. Two years ago, Thompson’s brother David, a Tustin minister, was shot to death in a South Los Angeles telephone booth. Three reputed gang members were charged in the killing.

“I walk with (the two boys) so I can pray with them and so I can talk with them and so they feel safe,” Thompson says.

Most Markham students, however, don’t have bodyguards. In December, Clinton Minnis, administrator in charge of Operation Safe Corridors, says, “I regret that we have not been able to get more people involved.”

He adds, “A lot of parents are a little bit afraid out there, too.”

Small-scale confrontations escalate. Four sixth-graders from Jordan Downs see some “red-shirt people” coming over the fence during gym class. One of the sixth-graders throws a Crip sign. The Bloods give chase. The sixth-graders seek help from older Grapes out on the railroad tracks.

This is how new generations of gangbangers are born. “If this keeps up,” says Williams, a former gang member himself, “somebody’s gonna get dead.”

Williams and Goins want to hold a staff meeting. They say some security aides and teachers are using gang slogans or mentioning colors. They want administrators not to change students’ schedules because of gang problems; segregating the gangs, the two believe, only makes things worse.

They want to phone or visit families of gangbangers who cause trouble. They want a dress code. “The main thing,” Williams says, “is the khakis, only because it’s an intimidating factor. . . . Khakis is synonymous with Crips and Bloods.”

Khakis No Fad

Kimbell is floored. In his third year at Markham, he’d thought khakis were preppy. And sagging pants, why, that was a fad at Compton College when he went there in the 1940s.

Kimbell has been surprised before. He had to drop his habit of saying “A-OK,” accompanied by the traditional gesture: circling the thumb and forefinger, leaving the other fingers upraised.

“Mr. Kimbell,” a student finally told him, “that means Blood.” Without meaning to, he’d been “throwing” the sign.

The teachers are still learning too. Their experiences are wildly divergent.

One, who asks to remain anonymous, was punched in the back this fall term, his second year at Markham, when he tried to intervene after rival gang members chased some of his students into class.

“It was hot. I had the door open. That was dumb. I won’t do it again,” the teacher says.

Don Nelson, a former fabric shop manager in his first year of teaching, says his voice is hoarse at the end of each workday. He’s been yelling for hours at his science students.

Bleeding Girl

He blames the gangs. “A girl’s ear was bleeding and she was writing ‘Blood’ on her paper with her blood. She thought it was really cool. And kids are always slapping at each other over gangs,” he says.

“Now I tell the kids that the ones who misbehave are hurting their education,” he says. “ ‘This guy’s a goonbrain and you’re not getting taught because of him,’ I say.” He says the gambit seems to work.

By contrast, Alfee Enciso exerts control easily. In part because he teaches English this year in the magnet school. But he also has a tough reputation. He has chased gangbangers with a baseball bat. He tells kids who flash gang signs, “I’ll break your arm.”

He is tall and thin, in coat and tie, sporting one tiny hoop earring. “I wear expensive clothes. I address the students as Mr. and Miss. I respect them,” he says. “They should respect me.”

His latest crusade is for more after-school programs to give students an alternative to gangbanging. He coaches the academic decathlon team. He co-sponsors a football team. On the day of the first meeting, he fields lots of queries: “Are there going to be any Crips there?” “Are there going to be any Bloods there?” Yet 37 boys show up.

‘Little Punks’

“People have to make a stand,” Enciso says. “I know that one person, two people, three people can make a stand.”

Yvonne Hutchinson is one. She grew up in the neighborhood and graduated from Markham, returning to teach in 1966. She watched the rise of the gangs and never hesitates to say what she thinks: “They’re little punks. They’re quivering masses of jelly. They’re fearful. . . . They’re the scum of the Earth. They’re trash.”

Her classes, she says proudly, would rather behave than hear her preach. One day after an anti-gang lecture, a student who missed the previous class flashed a sign. “Man, don’t do that,” a classmate says. “Don’t do that. Please don’t do that.”

Another time, Hutchinson and Enciso bought a paperback set of John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” to use in their classes. No problems.

“I loaned the books to . . . a . . . beginning teacher,” Hutchinson recalls. “My books came back. There are a lot of references in ‘The Pearl’ to blood and bleeding. Those little suckers went in and crossed out every reference to blood. We had to throw half the books out.”

Roger Babbitt wants out. A shy 13-year-old, he and his older sister transferred to Sutter Junior High School in Canoga Park when he was in sixth grade. He liked it. “The white people that go there, they have their little gangs, but it ain’t like Crips and Bloods,” he says. “They just bother the people that owe them money.”

He didn’t mind getting up at 6:30 a.m. to catch the bus. But after school, it turned dark before the bus dropped Roger and his sister back at Imperial Courts projects, where they live. Someone snatched his sister’s purse.

In eighth grade this year, Roger knows he can get in trouble for friends he made back in the project. Some of his buddies were PJs, and that marked him as a target for Bloods and Grapes.

He wants to return to Sutter. “(The buses) don’t get back so late now,” he says.

And he is trying to make arrangements for next year. “I’m never gonna go to Jordan,” he says, echoing a sentiment popular among students from PJ and Blood neighborhoods. The high school is across from Jordan Downs, home of the Grapes.

Prays for Safety

In the meantime at Markham, Roger says, “I ask God to watch over me so nobody will kill me.”

Autumn Ellis, on the other hand, is more lonely than frightened.

She has plans to go to college and be a computer technician. They call her “Miss Fix-It” at home.

She moved to Watts last year, from a part of town with little gang activity.

“It’s so stupid,” she says of Markham’s gangs.

She ignores them. She makes the honor roll. “They call me a nerd,” Autumn says.

Her mother has told her the family probably will move again next year, away from the gangs. Autumn is more than willing to go.

Beverly Dalton, a “magnet girl” from Southwest Los Angeles, has problems with old friends. They took part in neighborhood plays her father, an actor, staged in Nickerson Gardens. At Markham, she’s been shocked to find the same boys who wrote anti-gang scripts about pride have succumbed to the Bounty Hunters’ allure.

Last year, she tried to talk to them about it. An aspiring pediatrician, her grades faltered. Once, on the bus home, she started to cry. “I was just tired of black people fighting each other,” she said.

This year, she’s given up on saving her friends. “I want to be a doctor, not a counselor,” she says.

In a conference room adjoining his office, Kimbell and his assistant principals agonize over the dress code.

Parents, especially those on a welfare budget, would not be happy to hear that their children’s blue shirts and red corduroys are unsuitable for school. What should Markham prohibit?

“We ought to say flat out, the use of outfits that highlight red and blue colors,” Jim Molina says. “And then every time a parent complains, deal with it on an individual basis.”

Lee Byrd thinks they need to be more general: “. . . That highlight gang colors,” she says, writing on a note pad.

But, what about California Raisins T-shirts, a new favorite of the Grapes? What about khaki pants?

“What can a youngster wear? How can someone be neutral?” Kimbell asks.

“Maybe we should turn it into Markham Intermediate Nudist School,” Cynthia Augustine suggests.

That same day, in Rice’s third period, Eugene wears his new purple jeans. Quintin Carroll--who says he’s a PJ in the projects but not at school--is decked out in blue.

Slang Slips Out

Red sunglasses hang on the belt of a new boy, Robert Brooks. He leans over and says to a classmate, “Sharpen my pencil for me, Blood.” The slang slips out before he is aware of it.

He is overheard.

About 10 minutes later, he gets nervous. In the middle of the lesson, Robert loudly complains, “They starin’ at me.”

He says later, privately, that he has Bounty Hunter friends in Nickerson Gardens, but “I don’t get in deep.”

Still, he says, “I’m going to let people know where I come from.” And that means, he concedes, “I’m probably going to be fighting this year.”

It’s hard to tell if he’s involved in the melee that breaks out the next week. Dozens of children in a courtyard outside Don Nelson’s class are suddenly punching and shoving.

“It’s over territory,” eighth-grader Terrell James says, looking on. Nelson breaks up three fights. Security aides come running.

Pandemonium continues into the next class. One girl mutters an insult to a teacher, who screams back: “What did you say to me?” A grinning girl in yellow pants runs in and out of classrooms.

Student Ousted

Kimbell orders Hakim Lewis out of Nelson’s room through the open door. The class loses interest in science.

A teacher drops a pair of red shoestrings into Assistant Principal Thomas’ outstretched hand.

In the eighth-grade dean’s office, a girl’s slacks bear witness to an argument. Down a pant leg run ink scrawls: “PJ,” then “BH” with the “H” crossed out and replaced with a “K,” then “Slob.”

Another girl walks in and hands the dean, Doyle Iverson, a teacher’s note. Iverson reads it aloud: “Andre Stewart walked out of class, waving a red scarf.”

Kimbell heads for the counselor’s office, talking with Thomas over a walkie-talkie. Thomas recommends reassuring the students over the public address system.

“You really think that’s necessary?” Kimbell asks.

“That’s the feeling I’m getting,” Thomas answers. “The emotional level is high.”

Davita: “They need to get all the gangbangers out of the school. Let the kids that want to learn to do it without being distracted.”

Teewana: “They should have a gang counselor. They should have kids talk to their own peers about stuff.”

Davita: “Young gangbangers, I will say this, they have time to stop and go to college because they’re so young.

I tell them that.... But they will say, ‘This is my life. I can mess it up if I want.”’

By November, Andre Stewart stops wearing red. It happens after his mother is summoned to a talk with her son, Thomas, Williams and Goins. Overnight, his wardrobe changes to a mix of brown and gray.

Derek Valenzuela, told he cannot come to Markham in red, decides he won’t show up at all. He spends a few weeks at home in “the Nickersons.” In khakis and a red belt, Derek rejects transfers, saying the other schools have too many Crips. But eventually a place for him is found in a San Fernando Valley school.

Such changes are scored as victories at Markham. “It’s a start,” Williams says.

But, as always, hope evaporates. Before Thanksgiving, disputes flare into fisticuffs on campus and after-school brawls down by the tracks. One day, Williams has to knock Eugene down to keep him from following older Grapes into battle.

It takes two murders in the community to bring relief. On Nov. 22, a stranger is shot four times in the head across from nearby 102nd Street School, in full view of three kindergarten classes.

In early December, a former Markham student, 10th-grader Tasu Odom, is killed in a drive-by shooting at a hamburger stand. One of Rice’s students composes a poem about the boy. A former teacher’s aide writes in a eulogy to be published in the school newspaper: “He worked very hard to stay away from drugs and gangs.”

Funeral Delegation

The campus calms. The morning of Dec. 16, the last day before Christmas break, a delegation of faculty and staff attends Tasu’s funeral. The faculty holiday party is that afternoon.

In January, the children return. Scuffles erupt anew.

Kimbell arrives at work the last Monday of the month to find Blood slogans spray-painted in black across the bungalows near the gym. Until then, graffiti has been sporadic, small in scale, furtively marked in felt-tip or ballpoint pen.

Kimbell assigns someone to come in at 5:30 a.m. every day to paint out graffiti.

“The school district usually comes out within a day, but I don’t even want it there that long,” Kimbell says. “If someone from the opposite point of view sees it, they feel they have to respond.”

The anti-graffiti man starts his new shift Thursday as the semester draws to a close.

MARKHAM INTERMEDIATE: SCHOOL IN TURMOIL School name: Edwin Markham Intermediate School, named for the poet who wrote a tribute to the working class titled “The Man With the Hoe,” sprawls across 24 acres at 104th Street and Compton Avenue.

Attendance: Nearly 1,600 students attend the Watts school, along with 160 students from other parts of the city who are enrolled in Markham’s health careers magnet program. Last year, Markham had an attendance rate of 79%.

Racial makeup: 63% black; 30% Latino. About 10% of the students have limited knowledge of English.

Economic: More than 95% of the students come from families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Many come from the four housing projects that surround it--Jordan Downs, Imperial Courts, Nickerson Gardens and Hacienda Village.

Achievements: Won citywide academic decathlon Super Quiz in 1987 and 1988.

Crime: During the 1987-88 school year, school district police reported 15 incidents involving weapons, including 3 arrests. Of the incidents, 2 involved handguns, 6 knives, 1 a simulated weapon and 6 other weapons.

Test Scores: On last year’s California Assessment Program tests, Markham students scored well below state and district averages in all areas. Markham sixth-graders scored 174 on reading, compared to 228 for the average Los Angeles Unified School District student and 265 statewide. Markham eighth-graders scored 152 in math, compared to 220 for the district and 264 for the state.

MARKHAM: SCHOOL IN THE MIDDLE The campus of Markham Intermediate School sits on the dividing line between gang territories in Watts. Crips territory stretches to the east, past the Southern Pacific railroad tracks. Bloods claim the turf to the west. The school has been scene of several clashes.