Pasadena's blackboard jungle
Violence in local schools is a bigger problem than some think
By Victor Cass 03/26/2009
Public school districts and communities across the country are locked in heated debate over having police officers patrol their middle and high school campuses. Using cops to nail juvenile offenders is what many critics see as facilitating the so-called “School-to-Prison Pipeline,” by which otherwise “good” kids get caught up in the criminal justice system through citations or arrests, as opposed to having their “behavioral issues” handled internally by school administrators.
However, the idea that police are targeting basically “good kids” engaging in garden-variety mischief is a fantasy being sensationally touted by the media, special interest groups, anti-police activists and out-of-touch parents. The hard truth that nobody wants to talk about is that many public schools in America are increasingly seeing violent assaults perpetrated by students on teachers, staff members and each other. That is the real reason why public schools are becoming jail and prison preparatory centers.
Symbolic of being out of touch with these realities is Kris Ockerhauser, president of the ACLU Pasadena-Foothills Branch, who said in the March 5 issue of the Pasadena Weekly: “The whole idea of a fistfight becoming felony assault with a deadly weapon is too strong a response.” Just below her remarks, the story discusses the case of a young African-American male who, with the help of two other African-American students, attacked and beat a Latino student using their hands and feet. The three students were charged with felony assault.
For one thing, a “fistfight” is when two people engage in basically “fair,” one-on-one fisticuffs. These were three African-American boys who attacked and beat a Latino boy, in what on its face seems like a racially motivated hate crime. This Latino student was on the ground, being kicked (by shoes) in the head and face and punched by three people. This was no “fistfight.” This was a crime. This was an assault with a deadly weapon. Don’t think so? Lie down on the ground and get kicked and stomped in the head, face and neck by three guys wearing shoes who are also punching you with closed fists. Do you think hands and feet could kill you now?
Another misguided sage is Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, who writes in the Pasadena Journal (March 5): “The sense that too many schools are turning into prisons is very real. Students are learning that many school disciplinary incidents … that used to end with a trip to the principal’s office can now lead to an arrest.” I don’t know what schools she attended, but in my day you got sent to the principal’s office for being overly tardy or for ditching class, not for shanking a student with a knife or bringing a gun in your backpack so you can shoot a classmate. Violent students assaulting, stabbing and shooting other students, teachers or staff, committing vandalism, or committing strong-arm robberies of other students’ belongings are the reasons why schools are feeling like prisons. And we need police on campus to arrest these offenders, just like anybody on the streets would be arrested for committing the same acts.
Activists and media spend so much of their time sensationalizing the plight of the “poor” criminal students, disadvantaged from birth, who now have even less chances for success because the police are cracking down on them. How about interviewing, for once, the poor kid who got beat up? Let’s read about the Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who was sent to the hospital with a broken nose, eye socket and jaw after being assaulted by several of his own students. How would you feel, as a parent, if it was your child sent to the hospital by a violent student attack? Are you going to wring your hands over the “school-to-prison pipeline,” or are you going to demand that the police do something?
There are violent student predators, many of whom are involved in gangs, the drug culture and street criminality. Others, like the Columbine killers, are obsessed with violent video games, bomb-making and exacting revenge from peers and society. These “children” have no qualms about bringing weapons to school and attacking classmates, teachers or staff. Destroying property and stealing, whether by force or fear, is a way of life for many of these kids.
Assaults and robberies against our public school children, committed by their peers, happen daily. The police have been decisive in campus crime prevention but are just one spoke in the critical wheel of society’s search for a cure to the ills that plague our public schools. Less crowding, proper funding, skilled teachers, parental involvement, mediation, conflict resolution/anger management training and access to mental health services will go a lot farther than worrying about a mythical, police-driven “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Victor Cass is a 16-year Pasadena police officer currently assigned to the Homeless Outreach-Psychiatric Evaluation (HOPE) Team.