AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – With a violent start to the school year that’s included a series of huge fights and a shooting, one local law enforcement agency is saying the word that others haven’t: “gangs.”
Burke County High School has been the site of four brawls so far this school year. Aiken High and Butler High have seen similar incidents, and then a shooting Wednesday injured a student at Josey High in Augusta.
Many have wondered what’s driving the violence, though few have offered a clear view.
But the Burke County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday blamed “gang activity within the high school” in Waynesboro.
Four adults and five juveniles have been charged with affray, disrupting a public school and unlawful gang activity, Burke County deputies said. Additionally, two have been arrested and warrants are out for others involved. And deputies expect more charges to follow.
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Meanwhile, the agency issued an alert for the public to be on the lookout for a 17-year-old wanted on gang-related charges.
Zavion Washington is wanted on suspicion of unlawful street gang activity, disrupting a public school and affray, according to deputies. Authorities released a photo of him and described him as 6 feet tall and weighing 205 pounds.
Even with the wave of violence washing across high schools on both ends of the CSRA, agencies haven’t been willing to say whether gangs played a role.
Even after Wednesday’s shooting at Josey, Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree said it was too early to speculate whether gangs played a role.
Reading between the lines of public statements from officials, it’s easy to see that perhaps gangs might be a suspected factor. There’s been much discussion of ways to avoid violence.
Richmond County School System Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Bradshaw, for example, urged parents on Wednesday: “Please have conversations with your children about solving problems without violence.”
And Sheriff Richard Roundtree said: “The schools are just an extension of our neighborhoods, so what goes on in our neighborhoods continues in our schools.”
Like others, Augusta Mayor Garnett Johnson said we need to find things for young people to do things other than pursue violence.
“I do not have jurisdiction over law enforcement or our courts. However, I can work to strengthen programming initiatives for our youth,” he said after Wednesday’s shooting. “We need to create safe havens for our children, including expanding after-school and summer programming offered by our recreation centers.”
He also suggested an awareness campaign to inform parents about the options available to their children.
“We are calling for volunteers that are willing to roll up their sleeves and help, whether that’s transporting students to after-school programming, tutoring our youth, or participating in mentorship opportunities,” he said.
Although authorities previously haven’t definitively blamed gangs for the violence in schools, they haven’t been reticent to do so when it comes to an escalation of violent crime across the CSRA in the past year and a half.
The violence has claimed more than 100 lives since April 2022 in cities large and small on both sides of the Savannah River.
And authorities have blamed gangs for much of that violence.
And many of the victims and suspects in those crimes have matched the same description as victims and suspects in the school violence: young men.
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