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School gun case sparks debate over safety and second chances

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School gun case sparks debate over safety and second chances

MARTHA IRVINE

September 8, 2022 GMT

Oak Park, Ill. (AP) — Keyon Robinson was just a month away from graduating from high school when he took a loaded gun, placed it in his backpack and headed to campus.

He’d fought with a relative that morning. He was angry, and scared someone would come after him. The firearm, a Glock-style ghost gun with no serial number that he’d bought via social media, was his security blanket.

“I felt like I just needed it for safety because of the stuff I got myself into,” said Robinson, now 19.

He insists he never intended to hurt anyone at his school in Oak Park, a suburb that borders Chicago’s West Side. “Realistically, I didn’t need a gun at all.”

And he never fired it. On May 3 — three weeks before a gunman massacred 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas — police arrested Robinson near the school’s main entrance as he returned from lunch. He told the officers, who were acting on a tip, that he hadn’t even taken the gun out of his backpack until they asked him to do so.

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Still, in an instant, that one decision changed the trajectory of his young life. It also shook the entire school community, prompting intense discussions about how its young people might be protected.

Most gun incidents in and around campuses are more like Oak Park than Uvalde. They’re not planned large-scale shootings, or active-shooter situations. More often, they’re smaller altercations that escalate when someone has a gun at or near a school, a game or other event, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, which tracks incidents from the last five decades.

All these cases expose a hard truth: Keeping students from bringing guns to school is difficult.

Security staff and metal detectors miss things, experts say. Doors that are supposed to be locked get propped open. Items can be hidden even when schools require clear backpacks.

This fall, leaders at Oak Park and River Forest High, Robinson’s school, began training more staff, adding security to the day shift, and moving more experienced team members to hot spots such as cafeterias, where fights are known to break out during lunch. Posters on the massive campus encourage students to be the school’s eyes and ears: “If You See Something, Say Something.”

The school, known as OPRF, is trying to walk a fine line — to keep students and staff safe without making them feel unwelcome or anxious. In 2020, the School Board voted 6-1 to end the school resource officer program amid national protests over police brutality. Cries for reform escalated that summer after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man, as other officers stood by.

Now some officials are rethinking the decision to cut ties with police. But they’re also holding fast to a widely held belief among educators — that connecting with students is the best way to build trust, identify threats and prevent tragedies.

By his own account, and according to school records provided by his attorney, Robinson was a student who bonded with teachers at OPRF, including support staff. One staffer noted his “unbelievable social skills” and respectfulness. He owned his mistakes, staff said, but he also struggled with depression, drug use and occasional impulsivity. Schoolwork was a challenge.

After his arrest, Robinson said he was expelled. But the district offered him the chance to complete his studies, away from his classmates and campus, where he can no longer set foot. A Cook County judge agreed that school in some form was “the best thing for him to do,” though she gave him a stern reminder to avoid school grounds and weapons of any kind.

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“Yes, your honor,” Robinson responded.

With that, the judge allowed him to be released on bond after a few weeks in jail, and he spent most of the summer at his family’s Oak Park apartment, wearing ankle monitors to track his movements. He hung out with his mom and siblings, played video games and finished the schoolwork. Eventually, he got his diploma.

“It’s restrictive, always,” Robinson said of the monitors. “But I got to be grateful.”

As he awaits his fate in court, he’s been granted permission to work at a fast-food restaurant. Ultimately, he’d like to go to community college or trade school, and maybe play football. He and his family hope felony charges will be deferred because this is a first-time offense.

Meanwhile, students have returned for a new year at OPRF as school officials and the community process what happened.

“It pains me to the core of my being that you have to do this on your jobs,” School Board member Ralph Martire told staff after a security update at a recent meeting. “It shouldn’t be that we should be this worried about violence at this level in educational setting. But we have to be — the world has to be.”

The K-12 database shows that active shooter incidents — when a shooter kills or wounds victims on campus during “a continuous episode of violence” — accounted for 11 of 430 shootings in and around schools from the start of 2021 through August 2022.

Fights that escalate when someone has a gun accounted for 123 of those shootings. In South Carolina, a 12-year-old shot and killed a classmate in a middle school hallway, and in New Orleans, an 80-year-old woman was caught in crossfire at a graduation — both in the same month Robinson was caught with the gun.

Many in the Oak Park community worry. What if another student brings a weapon to school? Maybe they already have.

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No one at the School Board meeting spoke Robinson’s name, though the incident was on many minds. He is aware that his actions have affected people’s sense of safety.

“Because of the mistake that I made, and other mistakes, then I think that it is reasonable to have more tighter security — and have an officer in the school now,” he said. “I think that’s something that’s appropriate.”

OPRF is among many schools nationwide that have shifted to a restorative justice model, moving away from zero-tolerance polices, which often disproportionately affect students of color. At OPRF, about 44 percent of roughly 3,400 students at the high school identify as Black, Hispanic, multiracial or Asian.

With restorative justice, incidents are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, with more time spent processing what’s happened to try to prevent repeat behavior. There are consequences, determined by the severity of the deed. But the goal is for students to spend more time learning and to make better choices, with support.

Superintendent Greg Johnson still sees a chance to rethink the role police could have at the school. Johnson, who is white, told the school board he understands the “very real challenge” people of color face with law enforcement.

“Our belief as a school district, though, is that the way through that is education and relationships,” he said. “We need a partnership” with police, he added. “We need a member on our crisis team here.”

A federal survey found that 42 percent of public schools had at least one resource officer one day or more a week in the 2015-16 school year, the most recent data available. The National Association of School Resource Officers, which helps train police to work in educational settings, estimates that 14,000 to 20,000 resource officers serve K-12 schools.

Still, at least two OPRF board members balked when another praised efforts to “harden” security this fall.

“We want to keep the buildings safe,” member Gina Harris said. “But that language is challenging, as well as confronting for me as a Black woman and for families and students.”

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At one point in the meeting, a frustrated parent stood up to interrupt the board discussion. “This is a scary issue for us parents!” she said. “This is really a critical life-and-death situation that we’re dealing with.”

Lynda Parker, the school’s assistant superintendent and principal, tried to reassure her. “It is as important to us — as we’re living in it too,” Parker said, gently.

Behavior problems and mental health issues have been on the rise at many schools since students returned to in-person learning, and OPRF is no exception. Having to quarantine at the height of the pandemic also took a toll on Robinson.

“I stopped playing football,” he said. “I was not doing good in school over Zoom, so I feel like it had a big impact on my life, a huge impact on my life.”

He’d been a running back and cornerback early in his high school career. When in-person school resumed, he’d lost motivation, he said, and got suspended from the team for vaping at school and other infractions.

“I wouldn’t say we were goodie kids,” he said of himself and his friends. “But, like, just typical teenagers.”

But he liked school and the people there, he said, even the security staff, and considered many teachers mentors.

“They were supporting me and still pushing me to do better,” he said, even when he was in jail. “Still, to this day, I have teachers texting me, checking on me.”

At a recent status hearing for his case, Robinson, wearing jeans and a white dress shirt, sat silently with his mom, Nicole Bryant, who works in child care and drives for Uber to make ends meet. Robinson’s attorney updated the court on his client’s work schedule and location. One of Robinson’s two electronic monitors was removed.

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He faces charges including possession of a firearm, a class 3 felony, and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, a class 4 felony. They could lead to substantial time in prison.

“The news media says ‘kid with gun at school’ — boom — and that’s it. And people draw their conclusions,” attorney Thomas Benno said. He’s asking the court to consider Robinson’s intent in having the gun with him — to protect himself.

Because Robinson had no criminal record, other than a traffic violation, Benno is seeking the deferred sentence, which means probation and other requirements detailed by the court. It’s a strict, monitored program with no room for more mistakes, Benno said. He believes that’s better than incarceration, in this instance, and that his young client, who school staff say is a leader in his social circles, will share his cautionary tale.

“He can go and tell kids, ‘Hey, don’t carry the gun,’” Benno said. “He’s going to tell the story.”

Some in the community still quietly question whether a second chance would send the right message.

Just four days into this academic year, OPRF had a soft lockdown over a report of a student with a gun. Under the “Secure and Teach” protocol, as the school calls it, teachers lock their doors and try to continue with their lessons while security investigates.

The report turned out to be unfounded. The community breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“I’d rather have them overreact than underreact, because the consequence is so great,” said Brian Roman, a university professor and OPRF parent.

He’s considered shifting his son to another school because of safety concerns. But he appreciates OPRF and the diversity it offers, and he still hopes his son can graduate from the school in 2024.

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Last spring, Robinson’s mom had been ready to celebrate her own son, the third of her four children. He had fought so hard to graduate, she told the school — he wanted to show everyone he could do it, despite his struggles. She, too, graduated from OPRF. Now she’s just grateful her son was allowed to get his diploma, even if he couldn’t walk with his class.

Leon Watson, a family friend, frowned when asked about Robinson, the gun and that day last May. “I was disappointed and surprised and confused,” he said. “That’s not him. It’s not … but he’s kicking himself every day.”

Robinson nodded in agreement. “Yeah,” he said. “Every day.”

His hopes for a second chance are now in the hands of the court.

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Martha Irvine, an AP national writer and visual journalist, can be reached at [email protected] or at http://twitter.com/irvineap.

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Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges

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Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges

LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won’t find out until next month at the earliest whether he can challenge extradition to the U.S. on spying charges, or if his long legal battle in Britain has run out of road.

Two High Court judges said Wednesday they would take time to consider their verdict after a two-day hearing in which Assange’s lawyers argued sending him to the United States would risk a “flagrant denial of justice.”

Attorneys for the U.S., where Assange has been indicted on espionage charges, said he put innocent lives at risk and went beyond journalism in his bid to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified U.S. government documents.

Assange’s lawyers asked the High Court to grant him a new appeal — his last roll of the legal dice in the saga that has kept him in a British high-security prison for the past five years.

The judges overseeing the case reserved their decision, and a ruling on Assange’s future is not expected until March at the earliest.

If judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson rule against Assange, he can ask the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition — though supporters worry he could be put on a plane to the U.S. before that happens, because the British government has already signed an extradition order.

The 52-year-old Australian has been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege Assange encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.

Lawyer Clair Dobbin, representing the U.S. government, said Wednesday that Assange damaged U.S. security and intelligence services and “created a grave and imminent risk” by releasing the hundreds of thousands of documents — risks that could harm and lead to the arbitrary detention of innocent people, many of whom lived in war zones or under repressive regimes.

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Dobbin added that in encouraging Manning and others to hack into government computers and steal from them, Assange was “going a very considerable way beyond” a journalist gathering information.

Assange was “not someone who has just set up an online box to which people can provide classified information,” she said. “The allegations are that he sought to encourage theft and hacking that would benefit WikiLeaks.”

Assange’s supporters maintain he is a secrecy-busting journalist who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have long argued that the prosecution is politically motivated and he won’t get a fair trial in the U.S.

Assange’s lawyers argued on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday that American authorities are seeking to punish him for WikiLeaks’ “exposure of criminality on the part of the U.S. government on an unprecedented scale,” including torture and killings.

Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said there is “a real risk he may suffer a flagrant denial of justice” if he is sent to the U.S.

Dobbin said the prosecution is based on law and evidence, and has remained consistent despite the changes of government in the U.S. during the legal battle.

She added that the First Amendment does not confer immunity on journalists who break the law. Media outlets that went through the process of redacting the documents before publishing them are not being prosecuted, she said.

Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, though American authorities have said the sentence is likely to be much shorter.

Assange was absent from court on both days because he is unwell, WikiLeaks said. Stella Assange, his wife, said he had wanted to attend, but was “not in good condition.”

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Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

“Julian is a political prisoner and he has to be released,” said Stella Assange, who married the WikiLeaks founder in prison in 2022.

“They’re putting Julian into the hands of the country and of the people who plotted his assassination,” she added, referring to unproven claims by Assange’s lawyers that he was a target of a CIA plot to kidnap or kill him while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Supporters holding “Free Julian Assange” signs and chanting “there is only one decision — no extradition” protested outside the High Court building for a second day.

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested and imprisoned him for breaching bail in 2012. Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

A U.K. district court judge rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. Higher courts overturned that decision after getting assurances from the U.S. about his treatment. The British government signed an extradition order in June 2022.

Meanwhile, the Australian parliament last week called for Assange to be allowed to return to his homeland.

Andrew Wilkie, an Australian lawmaker who attended the hearing, said he hoped that sent a strong message to the U.K. and U.S. governments to end the legal fight. “This has gone on long enough,” he said.

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Associated Press video journalists Kwiyeon Ha and Jo Kearney contributed to this report.

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Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities

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Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order and created a federal rule aimed at better securing the nation’s ports from potential cyberattacks.

The administration is outlining a set of cybersecurity regulations that port operators must comply with across the country, not unlike standardized safety regulations that seek to prevent injury or damage to people and infrastructure.

“We want to ensure there are similar requirements for cyber, when a cyberattack can cause just as much if not more damage than a storm or another physical threat,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser at the White House.

Nationwide, ports employ roughly 31 million people and contribute $5.4 trillion to the economy, and could be left vulnerable to a ransomware or other brand of cyberattack, Neuberger said. The standardized set of requirements is designed to help protect against that.

The new requirements are part of the federal government’s focus on modernizing how critical infrastructure like power grids, ports and pipelines are protected as they are increasingly managed and controlled online, often remotely. There is no set of nationwide standards that govern how operators should protect against potential attacks online.

The threat continues to grow. Hostile activity in cyberspace — from spying to the planting of malware to infect and disrupt a country’s infrastructure — has become a hallmark of modern geopolitical rivalry.

For example, in 2021, the operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline had to temporarily halt operations after it fell victim to a ransomware attack in which hackers hold a victim’s data or device hostage in exchange for money. The company, Colonial Pipeline, paid $4.4 million to a Russia-based hacker group, though Justice Department officials later recovered much of the money.

Ports, too, are vulnerable. In Australia last year, a cyber incident forced one of the country’s largest port operators to suspend operations for three days.

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In the U.S., roughly 80% of the giant cranes used to lift and haul cargo off ships onto U.S. docks come from China, and are controlled remotely, said Admiral John Vann, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s cyber command. That leaves them vulnerable to attack, he said.

Late last month, U.S. officials said they had disrupted a state-backed Chinese effort to plant malware that could be used to damage civilian infrastructure. Vann said this type of potential attack was a concern as officials pushed for new standards, but they are also worried about the possibility for criminal activity.

The new standards, which will be subject to a public comment period, will be required for any port operator and there will be enforcement actions for failing to comply with the standards, though the officials did not outline them. They require port operators to notify authorities when they have been victimized by a cyberattack. The actions also give the Coast Guard, which regulates the nation’s ports, the ability to respond to cyberattacks.

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Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health

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Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden on Wednesday announced $100 million in federal funding for research and development into women’s health as part of a new White House initiative that she is heading up.

The money is the first major deliverable of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, which was announced late last year. The money comes from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, which is under the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The first lady announced the ARPA-H Sprint for Women’s Health during an appearance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Biden has said women don’t know enough about their health because the research historically has been underfunded and lacking. The White House initiative aims to change the approach to and increase funding for women’s health research.

The $100 million will be used to invest early in “life-changing” work being done by women’s health researchers and startup companies that cannot get private support, Biden said.

“We will build a health care system that puts women and their lived experiences at its center,” she said. “Where no woman or girl has to hear that ‘it’s all in your head,’ or, ‘it’s just stress.’” Where women aren’t just an after-thought, but a first-thought. Where women don’t just survive with chronic conditions, but lead long and healthy lives.”

President Joe Biden created the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health in 2022 to work on advancing solutions to health issues. The agency is part of what he called his “ unity agenda.”

In the coming weeks, the agency will solicit ideas for groundbreaking research and development to address women’s health, according to the White House.

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The first lady said last year when the White House initiative was announced in November that it grew out of meeting she had had with Maria Shriver, a women’s health advocate and former California first lady. Shriver, Biden said, spoke of the need for a public-private effort to close the gaps in women’s health research. Shriver also participated in Wednesday’s announcement in Massachusetts.

The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research is led by Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council.

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