Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Troubling Times for Southend Teens

I had meant to post about this issue and then this article appeared in today's PI. The issue?

"In the past four months, three teenagers -- all with ties to the Central District -- have been shot to death in killings that police are increasingly attributing to gang violence. The most recent was 14-year-old De'Che Morrison, who bled to death behind a car in Rainier Valley on Thursday, shot in the abdomen."

At least 2 of the boys attended Cleveland High at some point. All 3 had gang affiliations in some way. Here's what De'Che's father had to say:

"He was just a freshman in high school," Scott said. "All this stuff happened so fast, only in the last few months. A few weeks ago, I sat him down and we had a long talk. I could see in his face that he was tired, that he'd had enough of the streets. He said, 'Dad, I want to go back to school.'

Tired of the streets by 14? It's heartbreaking.

From the police:

'Gang investigators say teens are drawn to such Web sites as MySpace, where self-professed gangsters pose, often with sexy women at their side.

"There is so much access to the Internet and MySpace, and the glorification of gangs is there for them to see," said Lt. Ron Wilson, who heads the Seattle Police Department's gang unit."

This I would believe. If you feel unloved or insecure and there are people your age (or older - we all remember the lure of the "older" kids in high school) and you see them on MySpace looking great and having guns, maybe it's tempting. At that age you feel invincible.

There's a lot that ties this to all of us because, of course, nothing happens in a vacum. We all know if it had been 3 north-end boys killed in 4 months, there'd be a huge outcry. (This is not to say that people don't care or don't notice but somehow we accept it as a south-end problem.)

The City of Seattle has joined some other big cities and the association of mayors to file a friend of the court opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court uphold Washington D.C.'s long-time ban on handguns in a case currently before the Court. This is one of the first tests for the Second Amendment that has appeared before the Court. Seattle, and the other major cities, say that they bear a disproportionate share of the outcomes of gun violence. What the Court decides by summer will likely affect every single person in the U.S.

We have too many guns in this country, both legal and illegal. The genie's out of the bottle and there's no going back. But can we limit access to what's out there? Make it harder for teens to get guns, whatever the reason (suicide, gang violence, etc.)? Chris Rock has a crude, profane and terrifically funny DVD of one of his HBO specials where he rants about guns and gun violence. He says we should make each bullet cost $5,000. Why? Because then there'd be no innocent bystanders. People who wanted to kill each other would have to get a second job and save up for that one bullet. He's very funny when he says this but at a certain level he's right. Can't control the guns? Control the ammo.

Another issue for us, closer to home, is the assignment period we are now in for SPS. How does it relate to gang violence in the south-end? Well, if you had the choice and the opportunity, wouldn't you want your high school student at a school where that is less likely to happen? Yup and you'd likely go north. I had thought that maybe with Garfield reopening and the Southeast Initiative in full swing that maybe Roosevelt and Ballard might not be so popular. I think it's wishful thinking because safety trumps every other concern for a parent. And, given that Hale is going to take 3 years to renovate and be on-site (not a particularly great selling point) and that Roosevelt is likely to take fewer freshman, it's going to be a tough year for assignments.


Anonymous said...

So I have a question that just continues to baffle me about kids living in the south end and getting spots in north end schools.

How do kids from the south end get a spot at Roosevelt or Ballard when it seems like all the spots are taken by students living near the school? Does anybody understand this aspect of the assignment process?

Melissa Westbrook said...

It's likely that either they had a sibling in there (who may have gotten admitted under the racial tiebreaker but that should have timed out by now) or they are part of a program like Special Ed or deaf and hard of hearing.

That is the main challenge to the assignment plan, what should drive it; program placement and access to programs.

Anonymous said...

so then really then this year, regular education students in the southend will have a tougher time getting spots in the northend schools, unless they have sibling.

Anonymous said...

This is just heart breaking. Even though my kids are still little, even though it is unlikely that they would ever be involved with gangs, even though I love my south end neighborhood and elementary school, I'm considering moving our family.

Between the potential violence and more limited choice under a new assignment plan, I'm sure I'm not alone having these thoughts. I really hope amazing things come out of the SE initiative but I fear there are bigger societal issues that no school can fix.

What will it take to get some gun control in this country?

Melissa Westbrook said...

One thing you can do if you live in the south-end or care about possible outcomes for south-end schools (which ends up affecting north-end schools) is to contact the Mayor and the City Council. Tim Burgess, one of the new City councilmembers, is the chair of education committee. Let these people know that schools cannot do it on their own. The City needs to kick it up in those areas for those schools to succeed.

The City has no direct control over the district and so sometimes Councilmembers feel at loose ends over education. This is one place where their pressure could help our school system.

Anonymous said...

Jerry Large, columnist for the Times, writes today (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/jerrylarge/2004129785_jdl17.html) about the connection between services we offer as educators and community members and the struggles of some children, particularly the tragic violence that is hitting so hard...He closes by saying,"Schools can't do it all, but they can do better...I think the new superintendent is going to make improvements.
If she asks for our help, we should give it because the job of reclaiming lost kids is too big for one institution."
Let's support and honor this. You all know I've fought hard against the closing of Marshall, mainly because I see that there are still students being kicked down. I believe that there is positive discussion taking place downtown about how to take care of ALL students. But we educators need MUCH MORE support in the community. There are SO MANY issues that YOU have to help us address. We need to nurture our children and help htose who are not nurtured. Moving out of town is no solution....Columbine, anyone? As citizens, we need to dedicate time and effort to reaching these children, wherever they are, so they have a safer, warmer enivronment.

Charlie Mas said...

I read this story in the Times and it struck me as Orwellian.

The District is getting serious about addressing the needs of at-risk youth, and the first step they take is to stop new enrollments to the programs for them at John Marshall. The second step is to dismantle them. They don't do anything constructive until the third step (re-establish the programs elsewhere), and they don't take that step for over a year (September 2008). That's a weird way to address an urgent problem, and I can't help wondering if it contributes to problems in this year.

Anonymous said...

Seattle Public Schools has an open-enrollment policy that allows students to attend any school in the district. It was implemented in 1997 largely because each school offers a different slate of academic courses.

The district didn't have a central database to track students so administrators could quickly identify students who were disciplinary problems. I read a system was funded last year with federal grant money. That should have been the first step to controlling violence.

Gang violence frequently becomes a racial issue so it goes unreported. It often occurs when kids change schools. So in the case of a disruptive student being expelled from one school and into another, they are involved in fights during their first month with students from rival gangs.

You cannot prevent gangs, but you can stop violence by first stabilizing the student population. Keep these kids where they will feel safe in their own neighborhood and help them be successful by giving them quality programs.

Anonymous said...

A good way to stop school violence - mobbing for instance is a learned behavior and we untaught it after a year by giving seventh graders and eighth graders separate lunches.

Part of a successful peer mediation program is building trust between the staff and the kids, so not every offense is met with an expulsion - their needs to be alternatives, since alot of kids only know how to fight mostly to save face.

As a middle school project students made up actual moral dilemmas and surveyed students as to what they would choose. The point was to suggest alternatives. There was not supposed to be one correct answer. Most students feel they have no choice and problems can be be acted out in advance - it has to be explicitly taught.