Crusader Climbs Down From Perch Agreement Reached On Violence In Camden Schools

Posted: October 25, 1991

The one-man protest against violence in the Camden schools is over.

It ended about 4 p.m. yesterday when self-appointed crusader Gordon Sunkett, the evening sun glinting in his sleepless eyes, climbed down from his perch on a 6-foot platform and joined School Superintendent Arnold Webster in announcing that the two had reached an understanding.

Neither Webster nor Sunkett would disclose what kind of agreement they had achieved after their 15-minute huddle in a red Lincoln Town Car driven by businessman Warren Sykes. But they said it would be made public in a letter to the media.

Both men said they had the same goal - to end the violence strangling Camden schools - but different ways of achieving it.

"The issue (he has raised) is vital," said Webster.

Sunkett, a tough-talking ex-Marine, had vowed when he began his protest early Tuesday morning to remain on the platform until officials acted to ''stop the violence" that he said threatens the city's 20,000 students.

He demanded that officials hire more guards, train them better, issue photo IDs so non-students can be kept out of schools and publish crime reports about incidents at the schools.

Since perching atop the platform at Seventh and Erie Streets, across from Pyne Poynt Middle School, Sunkett had been the focus of television cameras, reporters and admiring citizens who honked horns to cheer him on.

Yesterday, Sunkett, looking tired, said that he would work with Webster to galvanize a "collective effort" against the problem.

"Dr. Webster and I have met," said Sunkett, "and we both agreed the issue is citywide (not just limited to the schools)."

He said the youth organization he founded, Save Our Kids, will make public a letter explaining the agreement next week.

Sunkett, who had not seen his 4-year-old son, Jamil, in three days and had been supplied with food for the last 60 hours by neighbors and his wife, said he had come down from the platform only four times, to go to the bathroom.

He said he had been unable to sleep on the platform and had to take cover late Tuesday night when he heard gunfire nearby.

Flanked by Sykes, school board member Ali Sloan-El and activists Shaheem Asim and Vance Bowman, Sunkett said: "(The protest) was worth it."

But he added: "A lot of people think the problem is just with the school system. But it is a citywide problem. Other organizations need to help out."

Sykes said he, Sloan-El and others had persuaded Webster to make a hasty return from a national conference in Atlantic City to meet with Sunkett to address the issue of school violence.

Webster had convened a scheduled summit last Tuesday with administrators and law enforcement officials on the issue of gang violence in Camden.

"It's interesting," he said. "The same day he mounted his platform, we met to address the same concerns."

The superintendent added: "We've got to use the resources of all agencies if we're going to solve this problem. My next step is to share with the board the concerns that have been made and meet with (Sunkett's) people as regularly as possible to make sure we coordinate. The problem is that things get started with a big bang. But this will not fizzle out. We will continue this."

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