Monday, May 05, 2008

Teen Summit with Mayor

This article in the Seattle Times about the Mayor's Town Hall with Seattle youth had a number of concerning issues.

First, there was this:

"Laurie Reddy, 16, a sophomore at Ingraham High School, told Nickels she worries about gangs at her school. She wanted to know how to keep kids from joining and what could be done to end the existing gangs.

The mayor told her more police officers were being added throughout the city, "and we also need more things for young people to do, more places for young people to be constructively engaged."

It's one thing to say we need activities for youth* and another to address gangs. I'm not sure that more cops and more activities are necessarily what is going to solve a gang problem. A lot of that activity is based on fear and the feeling of security in a gang.

*(On the subject of activities for youth; I grew up in a little town with literally nothing to do. Ever seen Friday Night Lights? That was my town. Not to complain but Seattle has got many, many things for teens and I have to wonder what more seriously could be done. We're building skate parks, there's music (Vera Project), community center activities, school activities, library activities; I'm pretty impressed with what Seattle offers.)

Two, was this:

"Sonja Frajman, 16, a 10th-grader at Chief Sealth High School, had written her question for Nickels on a card, but she never went up to the microphone. She didn't see the point. This is her third year attending the town hall.

"They're the same answers this year as last year," she said."

It's sad when kids see nothing changing. I remember a number of School Board meetings where kids came down with speeches in hand and demanded new textbooks, for example, by next school year. You have to smile at their enthusiasm but also their innocence in believing that something like this can happen that fast. But we risk losing their interest and involvement in civic activities if they see no outward change.

Three was this:

"But what Frajman wanted to know was this:

"You care about having new schools, but that really is not the main point. ... If we have a new school, how come we can't have new books and have a good education as you want us to have? In my class we don't even have enough books to go around."

It's disturbing how often you hear this from students in high schools. It seems like at many high schools there are literally not enough books to go around. I do know at some schools students simply do not bring the books back but telling their parents that they can't enroll for next year might make more books show up. Nonetheless, incoming students need books. The fact that students complain must mean it really bothers them. I heard this complaint during the Denny/Sealth BEX III debate because the kids said, "Why give us some building updates when we don't even have books?"

Last was this,

"Zekiros, who came here in 2002 from Ethiopia, told about walking with three friends to a community center.

He said it was about 8:30 at night and he was bouncing a basketball on the sidewalk when a police car went by them slowly and put a spotlight on them.

"They were looking at us really deep," Zekiros said. "They would never stop somebody on the same street if it was four white people and they had a skateboard. But four black people with a basketball, they'd stop them."

Officer Adrian Diaz, of the Seattle Police Department's Demographic Community Outreach program, told the kids that in situations like that, they need to be calm and "go along with the program." He said many incidents are videotaped and that the tapes could help with a complaint made afterward.

"But if you're combating right then and there, the situation can escalate," said Diaz."

There's a lot going on there. There's the issue of minority youth getting more attention from cops (it's true). There's the issue of parents - all parents - talking to their kids about interactions with cops. I know a lot of people might think "well, my kid would never get in the kind of trouble that would involve cops". Not true. Cops stop kids for all kinds of reasons. Kids need to know what to do (and especially what not to do) if they are stopped by police officers.

I did think it odd, though, that the Officer Diaz would say some interactions are videotaped and a complaint could be made afterwards. That would almost seem like he would expect a problem with a teen and I think most teens would not overreact "if you're combating"; I think he meant "if you are combative".


seattle citizen said...

I found it odd that the officer (Diaz) neatly sidestepped the youth's comment about profiling and instead offered a lesson on how to avoid MORE trouble by being docile. What about the kid's question? If I were the youth, I'd feel threatened by that response, it's as if he said, "you're going to get profiled, so just relax and go along with it."

LouiseM said...

I have to agree with you "Seattle Citizen". I found that very disturbing. As a mother of two African American boys (one 5 and one 8) I find myself talking to them even at this young age about what happens if you get stopped by the police. I want them to know now that all they have to do is just "be" and whatever the police do to them is considered justifiable.

I also think this is a prime example that things have not changed that much. Just being Black (or of color) holds a whole different set of rules and challenges. We're not that far away from Jim Crow.

seattle citizen said...

Trish, the Police Accountability Board is seeking new members. This issue for begs oversight.

Additionally, James Bible, the president of the Seattle NAACP, has made it a priority to bird-dog issues such as these and to increase accountability regarding profiling and other disparities in the way citizens are treated by our police department.

Some of the African American youth in our city are approaching a crisis level of cynicism around race. Even though there are many instances of progress in race issues in the country, there is, particularly amongst some urban youth, an increasing belief that progress has stalled, that hope is futile, and that they'll never get a fair deal. Treatment such as this profiling serves to further this disconnect.

On a related note, there appears to be an increase in what is called "gang violence," but is really a large number of smaller groups, sometimes loosely affiliated with "gangs," sometimes not.

These groups, like any cult, serve to provide youth with a sense of fitting in where they aren't finding it in the larger community. This cycle of trouble is impacting more and more youth. We see it in the schools, we see a lack of connection and an antagonism that appears to me to be increasing.

The current national debate over Reverend Wright illuminates some aspects of this issue, the ongoing attempt by some African Americans to use liberation thoeology (or just liberation speech) to keep race issues at the forefront, because we still DO have Jim Crow (and Willy Lynch). But the side effect of this is to continue the "us and them" divide that so many African American youths are emulating, but without the historic background to understand the schism, they take it on face value and make claims such as "the white man is responsible for...(insert crime against humanity here)

Ach. We need to model responsible and articulate discussion across race lines to demonstrate that many whites are involved in the battles for justice, and that justice isn't a white/black thing but a good/evil thing.

Dorothy Neville said...

My white brother and both my white twenty something nephews have had police encounters in their late teens. Simply being male and teen is enough to raise the probability of a police encounter. Therefore at some level, the advice was good and is the advice I have already given my son. Don't be too surprised if you end up getting stopped by police and if you do, act completely politely and calmly so not to escalate matters. Save the arguing over whether the stopping was justified for later when parents and other adults are present.

One of the several incidents one nephew had was racial profiling. He was walking down the street in the DC neighborhood where I grew up going to visit a friend and was stopped by the police because in their mind the only reason white teens visited that neighborhood was to purchase drugs.

I do not mean to discount the real issue of racial profiling for minorities. I do not like it nor do I have an answer for it. I just want to point out that *all* teen males ought to be taught how to avoid escalation with an encounter with police. I don't think it's the same thing as teaching our boys to be cynical about police, justice or society.

seattle citizen said...

Dorothy, I agree that youth should be made aware of the best way to react when stopped by the police. Confrontation will just escalate the situation, and as we saw in a recent Seattle newspaper article, some police officers use the escalation itself as justification for bringing a person in. I think they call it somehting like, "Failure to follow instructions of an officer" or some such.

But along with proper behavior when stopped (police, after all, are dealing with a level of violence in youth unheard of in my day...We fist-fought, guns were unheard of, knives were around but seldom used...and maybe the attention of the police on roaming youth is sometimes helpful.

Not to discount your relatives' experiences, but I think the kid in the article was right: it's just not common for the police to slow down, check out white youth as it is for minorities. This is a vestige of centuries of prejudice, and also centuries of economic disenfranchisment.

It all speaks to more conversations with citizens and officers, more education of officers, more accountability for those who profile...

seattle citizen said...

Here's another way profiling plays out amongst Seattle youth:

Take a peek inside the Re-entry program at John Marshall. This program serves students who have been suspended/expelled for a variety of reasons. They are required to attend a 45-day Behavior Mod program (re-entry) that combines B-mod with regular academics.

Most of the students are either African American (children of generations of Americans of African descent) or African immigrants (i.e, moved from Kenya, Ethiopia, etc in the last few years)

In fact, on a recent day, it's said that there was one White female, a couple of Asian/Pacific Islanders, and about ten African or African Americans.

Now, for all Marshall's issues, this is not the doing of Marshall. Marshall Re-entry takes who they are given. The re-entry program is the only program still open for enrollment; the Alternative part of the school's enrollment was frozen last summer, which means that most of the students in the building are Re-entry, without the moderating effect of some general-ed students around. In the current thread about inclusion, someone mentions "jail training" when minority youth are shuffled off to some dark corner. This is not special ed, but discipline, but a similar problem exists where more minorities are "identified" (profiled?) into these programs and pulled out of the mainstream.

Now, one might argue that these students did something to get placed in such a program, but...

85% AA?
5% White?
10% A/PI?

Who would suggest that this mirrors the incidence of issues requiring discipline in the general population?

The problem in this instance, of course, is that "sending schools" are routinely dealing with "trouble" by sending it away, to Marshall. Marshall is closing, and re-entry is the only program (besides GRADS) that will continue. Word has it that RE will be placed in the Wilson Pacific facility, and word also has it that the district will be actively working with sending schools to keep these youth in their schools before sending them away.

But this points out the bigger issues of profiling and also of azttitude and community support. As I wrote earlier, the community itself if often espousing ideas that lead these youths to a troubling interpretation of life in their neighborhood. This is happening more to AAs than to Whites, partly because, you guessed it, profiling on a larger scale still exists, disparity still exists, unfair punative actions still exist...it's a cycle.

So all on board for assisting the district in reconfiguring the system of support for these youths! All hands on deck to expand support networks, case management, community services, community engagement, community funding (even when there are legitimate discussions to be had regarding non-public funding of our children's educations, Trish)

Please help the district to make these changes over the next few months. It WILL mean holding kids in their schools, rather than sending them away. It WILL mean that e teach ALL students, somehow, problems with inclusion or not.

anonyms said...

It's too bad the inclusion thread turned into self righteous disability-bashing. Special education placement, and the specific type of placement, is one of the most overlooked forms of racial profiling.

2005 data
EBD program profiles:
White 34%
Black 49%
Asian 7%
Hisp 4%
Native 6% !!!

Mental Retardation Category:
White 29%
Black 41%
Asian 15%
Hisp 10%
Native 4%

Since special education students do not have access to the private school sector, these data should be compared against the city's demographics: 70% white, 8% black, 13% Asian, 5% Hisp, 1% Native.

Further, are there ANY, and I mean, even 1, African Americans in the district's current "inclusion" programs? I have found a few (like 2), students from Africa, but no African Americans. These numbers show just how easy it is to basically label people and get them out of the mainstream, and away from anything close to appropriate education.