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Re: zero tolerance and school violence

In a message dated 12/9/03 9:36:51 AM, lisa.guisbond@verizon.net writes:

<< My question is whether the way zero tolerance policies appear
to be implemented (based on available data), with the vast majority of
exclusions for nonviolent offenses, is the best way to protect innocent
students and teachers from assault, to create school and community
environments that don't foster more violence, and to meet the
educational needs of students. >>


Before we go further, I think the "available data" need to be scrutinized
carefully. For the past 20 years or more, we've substituted anecdote for
evidence, emotion for much reason.

1. "Non-violent" suspensions are in order. I once sat and helped do the
police and school paperwork on a basketball player at our school who had $256 and
six rocks of crack cocaine on him -- at about 9:30 in the morning. Although I
felt bad that the kid had ruined his life, I wasn't about to maintain that
selling rock in a school was a "non violent" offense. The entire gestalt of the
drug gangs centers around the profits from rock (and a few other commodities),
and just because the dealer isn't using violence this morning doesn't mean he's
not a part of the system that resulted (in December 1997, as I've noted to
the point of boredom) in the bullet hole in the middle of the forehead of young
Antwan Jordan, who died just outside Bowen High School the Tuesday before
Christmas vacation was to have begun (with a Christmas dance that Friday).
Members of two of the other drug gangs (Latin Dragons and Latin Disciples) had shot
him, and he was no innocent either. I just don't think he deserved that crater
like hole in the middle of the forehead (typical entry wound by the way) or
the mushy grey knob coming halfway out the back of his skull (the half exit
wound the paramedics showed me by raising his head after saying "You've got a 187

2. Students who wear gang insignia and flash it to others (whether neutrons,
members of their own gang, or members of opposing gangs) may seem to be
engaging in "non violent" behavior, but I've seen such things throw whole classrooms
up for grabs. For example, I once had a student whose brother had taken a
bullet intended, people said, for him. (When I arrived at that schools, the walls
all around read "RIP Joey" so my first question to my colleagues was "Who was
Joey"). Anyway, the student I knew was a Latin King. In gang jargon, the
letters KK mean "King Killer". So one day, someone whispered "KK, motherfucker had
it coming" to the guy I knew, and the next thing you knew several people were
involved in a very unruly disruption of tuhe educational process. Had the
young man simply said "KK", however, without being later engaged in fisticuffs, I
could have suspended him for gang activity -- the full five days. My
narrative would place it in context. What galls me is the idea that some professor
somewhere would take those data and, without asking me, assume that my suspension
was overly burdensome. After all, all the young man did was whisper "KK."

Look behind the data. Universities and the kinds of punditry that have passed
in them for wisdom the past decade or two are probably the worst places from
which to sort and evaluate "data" such as those two events. In the first (the
arrest and suspensions for possession of controlled substance and suspected
sale), we had what some academics would classify as a "non-violent" offense. In
the second, the four suspensions I was able to write (within three days thanks
to good police work and our cooperation) for murder would have been
classified as "violent." (And then someone might have said, "Horrors! How can you
suspend -- and arrest -- four young men for one murder..." Blah Blah Blah....).

I just did the paperwork at Ground Zero all those years. And before I'd
believe someone's version of what's "non violent" and what's "violent" I'd want to
see the details and hear how the taxonomies were set up. It's not just the
skeptic in me. I know what mayhem is because I've written it up and seen the
results on a human face that was slashed with a broken bottle to the tune of 52
stiches in the upper part of the face alone.

Which is why I suggested people here on ARN view the opening scenes of
"Clockers." I think Spike Lee knew what he was doing when the prepared that collage.
It's almost as effective as the first murder scene in the movie itself, when
the police turn over the body outside the fish sandwich shop. It's one of the
few times you could almost smell a scene in a movie.

I used to tell my students not to eat a heavy meal if they were preparing to
go out and get shot in the gut. The smell is a terrible memory to leave behind
with those who loved you while you were among the living. Always do your
fighting on an almost empty stomach, just in case traumatic interventions cause
all the juices inside to burst forth among the living.

Happy holidays,

George Schmidt