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Taking a look at non-law enforcement approaches to help quell school violence

A group of Niagara Falls Peacemakers with students.
Niagara Falls Peacemakers
Niagara Falls Peacemakers with students outside of Niagara Falls High School.

Two teachers were injured following a fight among students at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts during Monday afternoon dismissal. A statement from Buffalo Public Schools claimed the alleged perpetrator was not a district student. But in the wake of February’s shooting and stabbing at McKinley High School, there are questions about how to move forward with security measures in the district.

Niagara Falls High School dealt with a similar problem to start the school year. Long-standing issues between students during the early pandemic period led to fights and the suspensions of over 20 students in the first month of the school year.

It was at this point that Schools Superintendent Mark Laurrie brought in the anti-violence group Niagara Falls Peacemakers to help ease tensions.

“We’ve been working with the school for several years,” said Niagara Falls Peacemakers Founder Ezra Scott. “But when school first started back up after the pandemic and things kind of got hot and it was just really a response from the superintendent.”

Scott said the bus driver shortage, a problem nationwide, created a scenario where tensions would quickly boil over to fisticuffs.

“It was a conflict as far as how we were housing the students in some of the auditoriums as they were waiting,” Scott said. “And sometimes the students were waiting about an hour to two hours for the bus to get here and you can only imagine. You're ready to get home from the school day. It's a lot of frustration and tension building up.”

Peacemakers outside of Niagara Falls High School
Niagara Falls Peacemakers
Peacemakers outside of Niagara Falls High School

Scott and other Peacemakers, identified by their yellow shirts, can now be seen in front of Niagara Falls High School during dismissal times, but Scott said their presence is about more than just being a deterrent for potential violence.

“That’s what the work is really,” Scott said about communicating with the student body. “Just relationship building. So sometimes you may have a relationship with a student or two and you just try to emphasize some of the importance of communication. Because sometimes even at this stage in their life as adolescents, they may not understand or have that skill set, but just trying to explain to them the importance and the value of communication because a lot of times the issues you have is simply based off of a misunderstanding.”

In addition to Buffalo Police Department officers and security guards, the Buffalo Public School District has put Buffalo Peacemakers on the grounds of McKinley High School.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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