Armando’s Story – Policing at School

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Armando’s Story – Policing at School

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“I was 13 years old and in the 8th grade when I came to school with a knife.  I was crossing multiple neighborhood borders to get to school.  I’m from the county of Los Angeles where everyone knows that the wrong answer to “Where you from?” could get you beat up or even killed.  Every day on the way to school, I was tested by people who were bigger and older, pocket checked (asked to empty my pockets for any money or valuables), and sometimes chased.  I started to carry a knife, because I was afraid for my life.

When school security found the knife on me, I was taken to the Dean’s Office where the school called the police.  The police arrived holding tasers.  They cuffed me, threw me on the ground and put me in the cop car.  The cuffs were on tight.  When I arrived at the police station, my wrists were bruised, swollen and slightly bleeding.  The cops were joking around about charging me with murder, so I was really panicked. I had seen my mom get deported, so I was very afraid of the police.  (I really miss her.)  Ultimately, I was taken to juvenile hall, expelled from school, and eventually put on Probation.

That experience discouraged me from going to school.  No one at school, at the police station, at the Probation Department, or in court ever asked me why I was carrying a knife.  There was nothing done to keep me safe to and from school.  No one ever referred me to a support program to help me stay in school.  No one called my family or talked to me when my attendance started slipping.  My Probation Officer used to threaten me that if I didn’t go to school, I would get locked up.  Finally, I did go back to juvenile hall for missing school.  But, when I came home, things were even worse.

I felt like an outsider after this experience.  I felt like everyone at school saw me as a criminal.  I don’t blame them.  After all I was handcuffed, thrown to the ground and driven off in a cop car as if I was on the FBI’s most wanted list.  I would have been scared of me too.  The worst part is, my family also started seeing me different.  Me and my father started to fight constantly.  At one point, he kicked me out of the house.

Now I am back with my family, and I am back in school at the Youth Justice Coalition’s FREE LA High School.  Here at my school, we don’t have police.  Instead, we have peacebuilders (also known as intervention workers) who know the community and are trusted to prevent and solve conflicts.  Instead of throwing us out of school, we have transformative justice circles any time me or someone else messes up.

This year as part of my education, I travelled to Sacramento many times to pass Assembly Bill 953.  (I have had a lot of schools lecture me about government.  But, this is the first time that a school has shown me how government works – and supported me to change the law.)

We fought to make sure “age” discrimination was included in the law, and to make sure that policing in and around schools was also included.  I was part of the crowd that shut down the Governor’s Office.  I was there when we camped out in front of the State Capitol.  I will always remember the day when the Governor signed AB953.

AB953 will force all police departments in the state to keep track of who they stop and why.  The law outlaws racial and identity profiling – including outlawing profiling people because of their age.  I want to stop the degrading pat downs of black and brown youth that constantly happen on the streets and in our schools.  In LA County, I have also been pushing for some of the money for law enforcement to pay instead for intervention workers that could look out for students going to and from school – a program called “safe passage” that doesn’t exist in most schools.

It feels good that I am now changing the system that gave up on me, and threw me away.”

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