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Oakland Youth Say Armed Guards Don't Make Schools Safer

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Barbara Grady/Oakland Local

Dr. Joseph Marshall of Omega Boys Club speaks at Children's Defense Fund forum on school and community safety.

Considering Oakland's constant battle with violent crime and the mass shooting of 20 young children at a Newtown, Conn., school in December, the temptation, many say, is to put more armed police at schools.

But youth speaking at an Oakland event about this issue - organized by the Children's Defense Fund of California - said that's not the answer. 

Stationing armed police officers at schools "breeds tension between law enforcement and students" said Philip Johnson, a young man who leads the youth and college division of the NAACP California State Conference. "Quite honestly, the people doing the shooting are not going to school." 

Artijane "Smooth" Wickliff, a recent graduate of Castlemont High School and now involved with Youth Alive in Oakland, said what's needed more than police officers at schools are guidance counselors or teachers available to talk with kids.

"We just need someone to talk to," Wickliff said. "Most kids in Oakland suffer PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) worse than people in Afghanistan," but have no one but each other to talk to about it. He said kids need counselors.

"But I do think it needs to be someone who grew up in our area. Or at least someone who grew up in an area like our area."

Kids are not going to relate to a counselor or even a teacher who hasn't experienced growing up in the inner city, Wickliff says. 

Eric Gant, a youth representative on the Oakland Youth Commission, said kids need alternatives to the street life, something to do.

"The thing about changing the tradition of violence in Oakland is, once you take something away, say doing violent crime or robbing, you have to replace it with something else whether it's playing music or playing sports," Gant said. "I don't think there are enough alternatives, enough programs in Oakland so young people have alternatives to committing crime."  

What can adults in the community do? 

"Open up a space for youth. Don't discriminate against youth because of the way they look," said Gant. 

The forum on "Community and School Safety" held at Oakland City Hall this week drew youth advocates, leaders from faith-based and youth mentoring organizations, some young people and a visit from Mayor Jean Quan and Police Chief Howard Jordan. David Muhammad, chief executive of Solutions Inc. and former Chief Probation Officer for Alameda County, moderated.

Many adults seemed to agree that putting more police at schools and arming teachers could backfire by creating a culture of fear. Oakland Unified School District already operates its own school police department and stations those officers at the gates of high schools and some middle schools.

The Children's Defense Fund is co-sponsoring a bill now before the State Assembly, AB 549, that would require schools to establish clear guidelines in their school safety plans for the roles of adults on campus including police officers, counselors, teachers and administrators. It also would require that schools receiving state or federal aid for campus safety prioritize use of that funding for counselors and administrators over law enforcement officers. State Rep. Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, introduced the bill. 

Jamila Eris Edwards, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund of California, said the organization's research has found that police presence on school campuses can lead to conditions in which punitive measures like suspensions are frequently used, setting kids up for a school-to-prison pipeline.

"We found their presence contributes to the criminalization of children at a young age," Edwards said.

Results of a California Endowment survey of California voters' thoughts on school safety was released at the meeting and indicated that by a nearly 3-1 margin, voters prefer guidance counselors to police as the personnel to hire to increase school safety. The survey conducted in January - about a month after the Newtown shooting - found that 67 percent of respondents favored putting a trained guidance counselor in every school while 26 percent said putting a police officer at every school as a hiring step schools could take to improve safety. More than half of the respondents, or 52 percent, rejected the idea of arming teachers with guns.

Still, even if putting more armed personnel in schools is not the answer, the problem of violence cannot go unchecked, many of the adults said.

"I see violence as an epidemic," said Dr. Joseph Marshall, co-founder and executive director of the Omega Boys Club. He reminded people of the oft quoted philosphy that "if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem" and added "You hear that a lot of young people want to be part of the solution. If we support them,then progress might be made."

Pastor Michael McBride, founder of The Way Christian Center in West Berkeley who works with empowering urban families, called on everyone to commit to the task.

"We are here because we have a very complexed and nuanced and historical problem," the pastor said. "We won't get out of it overnight. But we will get out of it. What is happening in our communities today will not be happening tomorrow if we are committed."  

Going through the motions of best practices won't do much, he said. Instead the work must be motivated by love, which in turn will fuel commitment. 

Muhammad said the issue of safety for children and youth is more a community issue than a school issue.

Lamenting the "daily carnage" on the streets of Oakland from gun violence, he added that the average age of homicide victims locally is 29 and the average age of perpetrators is 30, not school age children. 

Even for youth of 17 and 18 who have been victims, "most of them are shot on Saturday night, not near their schools in the day time," Muhammad said. "So our children's safety is about our community safety."

The youth again agreed that community is the answer. 

"Communities have a very big part," Wickliff of Youth Alive said. While attending Castlemont, he said he was constantly tempted and threatened by what was going on outside on the surrounding streets.

"If there is a community surrounding you with violence, even though all we're trying to do is get educated, we might take part in the violence because we are surrounded by it,"  he said. "If the community is safe, happy and together than the kids grow up safe, happy and together."

 

Source: Oakland Local [http://m.oaklandlocal.com/article/328-youth-adults-agree-childrens-defense-fund-armed-guards-dont-add-school-safety]

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