May 29, 2015
Crime, Poverty and Education: It’s Not Rocket Science
Posted on Sep 25, 2007
Harris: And you don’t blame the drug. You say it’s not the drug—it’s some of the traditional causes like public school systems failing, parents not at home?
Avni: As cities get wealthier and wealthier, the difference between rich and poor gets more striking and more frustrating. What we just said about Oakland being a really dangerous city, well, it’s even more dangerous if you’re in East or West Oakland, because I was looking on the map, in the past three years, there’s been one homicide in my part of town and none in Piedmont. So that means that ... when you have a really, really rich city, and a lots of really, really poor people in it, there’s a couple of things that happens. One is that the rich people tend to send their kids to private schools—they stop caring about what happens in the public schools, although that is shifting in Oakland right now.
Avni: More and more of the middle-class people who come to move into Oakland have decided they want to send their kids to public schools and they’ve put a lot of money and time into local schools in their neighborhood. And there’s a slight shift, more diversity in the schools—schools that were before all—one was 85 percent black; now it’s 35 percent black.
Scheer: In the wealthier neighborhoods like Piedmont, the police force there is probably more available, and the residents expect the police to be there. Whereas in West Oakland, you might not see a police officer for months. And maybe that’s also part of the cause, it’s not just the education. ...
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Avni: And if you do see the police, they may be members of the Oakland Riders. Most of these kids, the first memory they have is of the police busting through their door and beating up on a family member. So these—the young people I work with will never turn to the police for safety, even if they are not engaged in criminal behavior themselves.
Scheer: James, you live in Oakland. What do you think about—when it’s one of the most dangerous cities?
Harris: Well, Josh, if we look at some of the things that Sheerly was talking about earlier—the corruption in public schools, the lack of solid home base—that is the problem. And I say, as a community, Oakland, frankly, could care less about whether or not black kids, Latino kids are living or dying. Because if they cared, it wouldn’t happen.
Scheer: And what about the new mayor? Do you think he cares?
Harris: I think the new mayor cares, but I think we have a new challenge, and that challenge is how do we get people to care? So I want to know from you guys, why is it that we won’t try to solve this problem? Why is it that our local governments won’t do that?
Scheer: Well, I think that one is that the same elected officials for the past 10 years have been in power. There’s no change, there’s no changeover. So there’s no new ideas, and it’s the same people, so if you keep on voting the same people in, maybe there needs to be a major change in the police force and the mayor. Maybe you shouldn’t have elected a 70-year-old mayor. Maybe you should elect someone who is young, who has vision—someone like your sister, coming from a new school of thought, the state senators and that problem. And, obviously, someone has to care about fixing the education system and putting money in that education system, and that comes from the state and the local government. And there needs to be—there are people who care. You need to pull them out and get them caring. Right?
Harris: Sheerly, is it just that we’re optimists, or perhaps I’m just the angry guy who wants a solution? But your work in juvenile hall, your work as an educator, what are you hearing from these kids?
Avni: They ... have tons of advice, and it’s good advice. Last week we asked them about education, because we were thinking about the recent Supreme Court decision, and all the kids writing about what their experiences with the education is like in juvenile hall talked about how bad the schools are, the teaching is in the hall, because you’ve gotta go lowest common denominator. There’s one kid with a learning disability; you’re doing fourth-grade math. And a lot of these kids are really smart. They say, “We want better schools. We want better education.” They also, another one, said ... in Oakland there is a new juvenile facility that is modeled, it has just been built, it was very expensive. All of you environmentally conscious will be happy to note that it’s a “green” building. So our kids are being disposed of in an environmentally sound way. But it is based architecturally and also philosophically on the model of Santa Rita Jail. So what you’re doing is you’re taking a bunch of kids who used to be in a rehabilitative facility and putting them in a facility that is architecturally designed for group management. It means that you now have 14-, 15-year-old kids talking to their parents through glass when they come to visit them. It means that it’s much harder for boys to get a chance to see their children when their children are born, which means you’re literally ruining their possibility of bonding with their kids. And I know I’m going off topic and ranting here, but I guess the solutions are there in the things the kids say: “Treat us like human beings.” Another kid said, “How come we don’t have any programs? There’s more programs in jail than in juvenile hall.” Another one wrote, “You can tell by what the new building looks like what they really think of us.” Another one wrote, “I don’t have any models, ever, of anyone that ever went to college.” Another one said, “I can’t afford to work at McDonald’s. I have to feed two brothers.” I had a girl—this was in Las Vegas, so clearly it’s not just local—explain to me that there was no way she could stop working as a prostitute because she has two sisters to support. So what am I supposed to tell her? Get a minimum-wage job, and if you can’t afford to take care of your sisters, that we’re going to have to go through CPS [Child Protection Services]? You don’t want to break up families ... and not give a solution.
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