After the Brawl

Everybody heard about the tussle between white cops and black students but the discord at Coral Gables High goes far deeper than that

"The administration was telling people to move back, but you could only move back so fast," asserts student Michael Webb. "The police were whupping people on the back, picking sisters up. One of my friends was trying to grab one of his friends who was being beat up [by an officer] and he got yoked down, too."

Officer's report: "As the defendant was being arrested the defendant punches this officer. The defendant and this officer were in a fight and went from a standing position to the ground."

"I saw some blood shooting up in the air," Debbie Anderson says. "I saw a kid balled up crying, balled up on the ground. I saw a police officer hitting the boy with a baton."

Collier: "If you see a lot of police beating up one of your friends, you going to try to help."

Anderson: "[Student] Lorenzo Woodley was yelling and screaming for the administration to do something. 'Why doesn't somebody stop this? Do something! He's not moving! He's on the ground!' Then Lorenzo grabbed the policeman, lifted him off the ground, and body-slammed him into a red car."

Officer's report: "Officer Pete Cuervo was attempting to place [Woodley] into custody. A struggle ensued, and [Woodley] resisted arrest. During the struggle, [Woodley] hit Officer Cuervo in the face with a blunt object causing severe injury, and a lasceration [sic]. Sergeant Miyares tackled the defendant and another struggle ensued."

"We had every right to be out there," contends senior Khalilah Jefferson. "The officers swung the first lick. It was like, all of us against all of them."

"It was like scenes I see on TV from the Sixties, except for the water hose and the dogs," says Georgette Allen, another student. "It was a mental violation, a mental rape. It took away a lot of people's innocence."

"We're being made to look like the bad guys," says one officer, who requested anonymity. "And we got our butts kicked!"

"We would've like to have shot 'em all in the head," seventeen-year-old Adam Brewton grumbles. "But we can't."

"Cruel ironies," begins an editorial in the April 12 issue of the school's newspaper, Highlights, much of which was devoted to coverage of the incident and its repercussions. "It started during our annual Black History Assembly, a performance that was supposed to be the culmination of a presentation exemplifying the best of not only black history, but tolerance and unity among all races. It exploded into anger.... The timing of the disturbance should give all of us something to think about, forcing us to confront issues often ignored or brushed aside."

Gables High principal Mandy Offerle is one of those who trace the fight directly to the stool-tossing scene in the auditorium A and no further. "The causality of it was that some nonstudent clobbered one of our kids and the cops misread the situation and people got into one another's faces too quick."

She cannot comment about the academic and behavioral records of the six arrested students because such information is confidential. The students themselves either refused to comment for this story or failed to return repeated phone calls. But according to Gables High faculty members who spoke on condition of anonymity, the six are average to below-average students. Two of them had previously attended Miami-MacArthur South, an alternative education program for students with serious disciplinary and academic problems. A third, who reportedly was failing several of her classes at Gables at the time of the incident, is currently enrolled at Miami-MacArthur South. (Citing confidentiality statutes, State Attorney's Office spokesmen refused to release information about whether any of the arrested students had prior criminal records.)

A square-shouldered woman with a stern demeanor, Offerle sits restlessly at a conference table in her office. With occasional brief turns of her head, she is able to glance out her window and monitor the goings-on at the entrance to the school, a massive two-story box sliced by hallways and courtyards that sits on a 26-acre sprawl of buildings and playing fields.

Throughout an hour-long interview, Offerle is constantly in motion. While seated, she fiddles with her glasses and absentmindedly thumbs through sheets of paper in front of her. But she doesn't remain seated for long stretches. Something continually draws her away from the table: a piece of thread dangling from a chair that needs to be snipped with scissors; a scrap of paper that has fallen to the floor; a stack of papers to be straightened.

If Offerle's mannerisms don't reveal her discomfort with the subject matter, her words do. "There are a million great stories here that no one ever reads about. Why don't you write about those?" she asks defiantly.

"I'm concerned about churning up garbage and idiot-level opinions. I don't want it to backslide into garbage-intensiveness."

An assistant principal at Gables High from 1982 to 1987, Offerle later served as principal of the New World School of the Arts before returning to run Gables High in the summer of 1993. She admits the school's eclectic demography effects a certain tension: Its irregularly shaped district incorporates chunks of Coral Gables, Miami, West Miami, Key Biscayne, and unincorporated Dade, and tosses together some of the county's poorest students with some of its wealthiest. Additionally, some students are bused in from outside the district to participate in the school's magnet programs. ("You have kids who are living in Cocoplum in three-million-dollar homes to kids who have trouble finding a pair of jeans to wear in the morning," remarks Harold Cole, Gables High's athletic director and the administrative assistant to the principal. "We're meeting the needs of a corporate president's kids to meeting the needs of his maid's kids.")

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