The deeply painful issues that have arisen for so many Americans around the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent exoneration of George Zimmerman, are complex in nature and require honest dialogue and sustained, practical action if real change and healing is to begin to take place.
It is, therefore, disheartening to see people, whom one expects would know better, grasping for simplistic, feel-good gestures that don’t accomplish much of anything, but instead distract us from the far more difficult long-term work that is needed to help prevent future Trayvon Martins.
The new movement to boycott Florida is one of those unhelpful feel-good gestures.
We at WLA are relieved to see that the LA Times editorial board has come out roundly against this mis-aimed move.
Here’s a clip from the LA Times editorial on the matter:
….What would be the goal of a boycott against Florida? [California State Assemblyman Chris] Holden claims his target is Florida’s “stand your ground” law, a statute similar to those on the books of more than 20 other states, which allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense without first trying to retreat from danger.
There is legitimate question about the wisdom and fairness of such laws, which, this page noted this year, encourage a dangerous shoot-first mentality. President Obama on Friday was one of many who called for a reconsideration of such laws in the wake of the Martin killing and the acquittal of Zimmerman. We join those who are concerned about “stand your ground” laws.
But if the wrong to be punished and corrected is the adoption of such laws, it would be odd and unjust to direct a boycott at Florida alone, and not other states with such laws, merely because Zimmerman’s trial was racially charged and closely followed by the public. If the target was not the statute but rather this particular judge’s handling of the case or this six-person jury’s finding, a boycott of the entire state seems not merely wildly out of scale but wholly unrelated to the perceived wrong.
Also read this essay by our pal Rob Greene on the boycotting-Florida issue. In it he talks about why this notion of boycotting entire states—either Florida or Arizona—is wrongheaded, however momentarily emotionally satisfying it might seem.
(And, while you’re at it, be sure to read this essay for Time Magazine by author/civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander about what the Trayvon Martin case revealed about young men of color being viewed, not as having problems, but as being “a problem.’)
A SCHOOL’S BIG BET ON NONVIOLENCE: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN STUDENTS AREN’T VIEWED AS THE PROBLEM?
In a desperately poor, dangerous part of Philadelphia, Memphis Street Academy decided to ditch its metal detectors and focus on supporting students, instead of being fearful of them. Violence dropped by 90 percent.
Jeff Deeny, writing in this week’s Atlantic Monthly, has this hopeful and very instructive story about what happened when a troubled school changed its strategy and, in so doing, changed its students feelings about their school, and about their own potential. Here’s a clip from the beginning…and one from the very end.
Last year when American Paradigm Schools took over Philadelphia’s infamous, failing John Paul Jones Middle School, they did something a lot of people would find inconceivable. The school was known as “Jones Jail” for its reputation of violence and disorder, and because the building physically resembled a youth correctional facility. Situated in the Kensington section of the city, it drew students from the heart of a desperately poor hub of injection drug users and street level prostitution where gun violence rates are off the charts. But rather than beef up the already heavy security to ensure safety and restore order, American Paradigm stripped it away. During renovations, they removed the metal detectors and barred windows.
The police predicted chaos. But instead, new numbers seem to show that in a single year, the number of serious incidents fell by 90%.
The school says it wasn’t just the humanizing physical makeover of the facility that helped. Memphis Street Academy also credits the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), a noncoercive, nonviolent conflict resolution regimen originally used in prison settings that was later adapted to violent schools. AVP, when tailored to school settings, emphasizes student empowerment, relationship building and anger management over institutional control and surveillance. There are no aggressive security guards in schools using the AVP model; instead they have engagement coaches, who provide support, encouragement, and a sense of safety.
Allowed to respond anonymously to questionnaires, 73% of students said they now felt safe at school, 100% said they feel there’s an adult at school who cares about them and 95% said they hope to graduate from college one day. These are the same Jones Jail kids who 12 months ago were climbing over cars to get away from school (Memphis Street Academy has since staggered dismissals and is using AVP techniques on the grounds as kids leave–nearby bodegas have stopped locking their doors when school lets out).
When asked about the security changes at Memphis Street Academy a ten-year-old fifth-grader sums up her experience: “There are no more fights. There are no more police. That’s better for the community.”
RETHINKING THE EFFICACY OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT POLICIES: THE NEW YORK TIMES WEIGHS IN
In this Sunday’s New York Times, Jesse Wegman, the paper’s new editorial writer on legal matters (hired in April of this year), had some things to say about the ineffective and Constitutionally-questionable way that California still insists on handling solitary confinement in its prisons.
Here’s a clip:
At Pelican Bay, the overwhelming majority of the men in solitary don’t even have a record of violence; they are placed in solitary for their “gang associations,” despite the fact that such associations have hardly any predictive value for a prisoner’s likelihood to be violent.
The little hope these inmates have of leaving solitary lies mostly in what prison officials call “debriefing,” or snitching on other gang members. (California officials say that about 200 inmates statewide have been classified for return to the general prison population under a pilot program that considers behavior and other factors besides debriefing.)
Opponents of solitary do not deny that certain inmates are too dangerous or disruptive to live among the general prison population. The issue is whether depriving thousands of people of virtually all human contact for years on end, without real opportunities to get out, goes beyond any reasonable standard of proportionality in punishment. “They want to make these people suffer — it’s exactly what the goal is,” said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. “Whose interests are being undermined if you let someone for the first time in a year talk to their mother?”
BACKYARD BEARS AND BOUGAINVILLEA
At LA Observed there is an excellent photo of a backyard bear lounging over a fence attractively draped with bougainvillea. (I mean, for those of you interested in backyard bears and bougainvillea, of course.)
The bear looks very cheerful.