Santa Barbara Gangster Turned Philosophy Professor….Long Beach Schools Reject Zero Tolerance…& More on the Special Counsel’s ReportOctober 9th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon
GANG MEMBER….SURFER…PHILOSOPHY PROFESSOR: THE EVOLUTION OF MANNY RAYA
Santa Barbara’s Mission and State has produced another one of their wonderful non-fiction narrative tales, this one written by Karen Pelland about a confused kid named Manny Raya whose caring but overstressed immigrant mother let him run in the streets, until he inevitably joined a gang and began winding up on the wrong side of the law, his life trajectory decidedly unpromising.
But as luck would have it, several adults—notably two local cops and a philosophy professor—saw something special in the kid and reached out to him. Now Raya has a master’s degree in philosophy and is a sought after philosophy instructor at Santa Barbara City College. And he’s a surfer.
How 32-year-old Raya recalibrated his trajectory (with a little help from Plato) is a story worth reading.
Here’s a representative clip from the story’s middle to get you started:
Joining a gang was not something Raya set out to do.
“It was confusing,” he admits. “As a kid you’re trying to figure out who you are, and you’re trying to separate from your family.” In Raya’s tiny world, that meant one thing: the streets. “The gang to me was everything,” he says. “I didn’t see options. What, I was going to be a gardener?”
Jumped in (delivered a ritual beating) to the Westside Projects gang at 15 with the street name “Fozzy,” Raya’s transition from carefree boyhood to troubled-filled adolescence did not go unnoticed by his mother.
Their relationship had always been open and respectful, but this was something Ms. Raya didn’t understand. “I know you’re better than this,” Raya remembers his mother saying. “You need to stop this somehow.”
It was a puzzling moment for the young man. “I love my mom so much,” he says, “but I was showing my love elsewhere. I remember thinking I had this strength and confidence about myself, and I just wanted to be a man!”
The police, particularly members of the gang task force, also saw a confused kid with potential. “You could tell that he was always torn between his [blood] family and his street family,” says Santa Barbara Police Department Officer Alex Cruz, who arrested Raya after the delivery van incident and who would arrest him many more times.
Cruz, who joined the police department in 1994 and was assigned to the fledgling gang task force in the late ’90s, often got phone calls from Raya’s worried mom. So, Cruz would head out looking for him.
“He had somebody that cared about where he was and whether or not he was in jail,” says Cruz. “Some kids just don’t have that support.”
Lieutenant Ralph Molina, who worked alongside Officer Cruz on the gang task force for years, remembers that “Manny had potential, you could see it.”
Molina says he encouraged the gang unit to really get to know the kids and their families, to talk to them about life, to build mutual respect. “You’d be amazed at some of the things they’ll tell you if you have a rapport with them. They’ll tell us they’re not getting love and attention at home; they’re getting abused at home, physically, sexually… and guess what? If they’re in the streets, the homeboys will give them all the love and attention they want.”
TUESDAY, LONG BEACH SCHOOL DISTRICT VOTES TO ADOPT A KID-FRIENDLY, SCHOOL DISCIPLINE SYSTEM
Several news outlets reported on this story, including the Long Beach Press Telegram.
But this story from non-profit Liberty Hill’s blog, nicely captures the importance of LBSD’s decision to turn away from its previous discipline policies that had resulted in 83,691 students being suspended in the 2011-2012 school year. Here’s a clip:
“Restorative Justice allows a student to see the larger picture of his/her defiance,” said Barbara Lindholm, Principal at Reid High School. “We aren’t interested in ‘punishment.’ Rather, we want to inculcate the values of empathy, orderliness, and manners in students – lifelong lessons which they will use in future arenas.” A student from Poly High School and a leader from Khmer Girls in Action, Malachy Keo, echoed Principal Lindholm adding, “I’ve had disagreements with teachers before. Restorative Justice practices would have helped me and my teachers see each other’s point of view and build better relationships.”
As the majority of students in Los Angeles County, young people of color have a vital role to play in making our neighborhoods safer, our economy stronger and steering our city and state towards success. Yet low income and young men of color have the lowest life expectancy rates, highest unemployment rates, fewest high school and college graduates and most murder victims of any demographic group in the county. This reality starts in school policies that unfairly target students of color for suspensions which ultimately lead to truancy and drop-outs.
“This vote is an important first step in our effort to ensure that every student has an opportunity to thrive,” said Kafi D. Blumenfield, President and CEO of Liberty Hill Foundation. “Passage of this resolution signals that Long Beach truly wants all students to lead healthy, successful lives.”
IN HIS REPORT, SPECIAL COUNSEL MERRICK BOBB TALKS ABOUT THE “GREY FOG” IN THE LASD & THE POSSIBLE NEED FOR FED INTERVENTION
In the introduction to his 33rd semiannual report on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Special Counsel Merrick Bobb kindly gave a shout out to WitnessLA, talked about former undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s “gray fog” and the possible need for federal intervention to produce true reform at the LASD. Here’s a clip:
….[During the years before his departure] the former Undersheriff apparently exhorted some LASD deputies to work in the so-called “gray zone” or, as I prefer to call it, the gray fog, where objects can be seen only dimly and the guideposts to distinguish right from wrong cannot be read. When the gray fog finally began to burn off, the Sheriff and Undersheriff faced calls for resignation. Although there may have been over-delegation and unwarranted reliance on the Undersheriff by the Sheriff, and despite the LASD being a paramilitary organization, it is worth noting that the assistant sheriffs and chiefs and commanders and captains, with two or three exceptions, did not exactly mutiny or protest when the Undersheriff seemed to overreach.
To attempt change in LASD culture and practice from the outside, the levers have been pulled and the pressure points pushed. The Los Angeles Times and Witness LA, as well as the Department of Justice, have lit up dark corners at the LASD and kept the spotlight unremittingly focused. Yet while vigorous investigations and solid news and editorials are necessary, they are not always sufficient to bring about change. It is frustrating when some recommendations to curb the callousness (or worse) toward some suspects and inmates by a small minority of LASD employees have never been adopted or vanished into the gray fog. In all the years I have served as Special Counsel, I recall only once when I was told things about rotation of deputies in the jails or intentions “sincerely” to change one’s ways that the speakers knew to be less than truthful, and this was at the latter stage of the gray fog years.
Time and again, it is been shown that the power to control an elected sheriff is a near impossibility, to the frustration of many—in particular, to the Supervisors. Despite good- faith efforts to be aware of and respond to problems, the Supervisors at the end of the day lack the power to order the Sheriff or Undersheriff to run a constitutional jail, whether directly or through a blue ribbon commission or a civilian commission or Special Counsel or OIR or an Inspector General or otherwise. It may be that the federal government needs to be added to the mix….