Thursday, April 28, 2005

Nation of Islam may intervene at Jefferson High over racial brawls

Gene Johnson Jr.:

During a forum this week on racially motivated violence at Jefferson High School, the president of the school’s Black Student Union said that she, like a number of other African-American students, was considering leaving the school for good out of fear of being “jumped.”

Meanwhile, Minister Tony Muhammad of the Nation of Islam pledged protection to students who feel threatened by what is described as a growing, palpable tension between blacks and Latinos on the campus.

Those were just two of the latest developments as parents, students, educators and the community at large continues to grapple with a series of incidents that have received wide attention and drew more than 100 attendees to a Tuesday night forum at Bethel AME Church.

Because of several recent altercations at Jefferson High School, officials have seen attendance drop by more than 50 percent on some days. For example, following an April 14 brawl 1,346 students were absent. After another scrape on April 18, nearly 1,100 missed school the next day.

“What I want to know is what are we, as African Americans going to do about it?” asked Mary Washington, the BSU president. “We are dying at Jefferson High School. Six percent there are [black] and 94.6 percent are Latinos. [School officials] threatened to take away my scholarship if I don’t sit down and shut up. And I won’t.”

Fifteen-year-old Stephanie Alonzo, who saw a friend knocked down and kicked several times during one of the brawls, believes that blacks and Latino should be separated when they aren’t in class. “The police let us fight,” said another teenager at the forum who declined to give her name. “I’m telling you the truth. What you hear on the news is a lie. They let us fight.”

While forum organizers said both candidates for L.A. mayor were invited to participate in the forum, Mayor Jim Hahn was not in attendance. Aides later insisted he had not received an invitation.

However, the challenger in next month’s election, Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, did show up. He said the city needs to form a black-Latino task force to address growing tension between African-American and Latino youth.

“We need to model for these young people black and brown unity,” he said. “They need to see two brothers working together ... and we need to demand that the school district protect our kids and have enough security personnel to do that. We don’t address conflict with a fight and make it worse. You talk it through. You try to figure out what’s going on and find a solution to it.”

For their part, school administrators have began enforcing a new campus ban on heavy belt buckles and white T-shirts — both of which can be used to signal gang affiliation, with the buckles also viewed as potential weapons. Teachers are continuing to conduct “days of dialogue” with their students.

Although security in and around Jefferson High has been beefed up in recent weeks, many parents and students insist it isn’t enough. Until the school district employs or utilizes more security, Muhammad — who organized the forum along with Bethel senior pastor Lewis E. Logan — told Washington and other black students that his organization would provide them with escorts to and from Jefferson High.

“We’ll be there [on Wednesday] and you’ll be under the Nation of Islam escort,” Muhammad said. “We’re going to walk with you and anybody else, you won’t have to worry. You give us a day and a time and we’ll be there.”

News and Blogosphere:

Los Angeles School Brawls Expose Black-Latino Tension

THE HUTCHINSON REPORT: LA Riots Thirteen Years Later (Can It Happen Again?)

Los Angeles School Brawls Expose Black-Latino Tension


At 5:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

[Teachers are continuing to conduct “days of dialogue” with their students.]

Probably soon they'll be offering courses in this at schools of education around the country.

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