Sylmar High Campus Fight Reminds Us to Love The Youth

A 40-student fight broke out at Sylmar High school yesterday during lunch time. Okay so first, raise your hand if you were ever involved in some kind of fight in school growing up. I know I was. And I’m sure a lot of yall were, too.

Instead of using this incident to pump up 10pm news ratings and twitter followers like the mainstream media, we want to focus on how these young students mainly of color are going to be able to address the harm in a loving way, build understanding, heal, and transform their communities.

The media sensationalizes the incident by posting a ton of videos from different angles and speculating about why the fight broke out and how the students involved are being punished. It’s like TMZ on Justin Biebs, but in LAUSD.

The criminalization of black and brown youth in L.A. County streets and LAUSD schools treats us like we are default trouble-seekers and criminals regardless of school fights, neighborhood affiliation, or criminal-injustice system records. So when something like this pops off, the media and law enforcement advocates jump on this opportunity to pump up the “bad brown and black kids at it again” narrative.

The old “you should be ashamed of yourselves-get out of our school” approach is so tired and ineffective. These ideologies are one step away from “lock em all up,” or “stop breaking the law and the cop wouldn’t shoot you.” Respectability politics plays a major role in this dangerous frame of thinking. Miss me with all of it.

When something like this goes down, it’s critical to instead have institutionalized practices and trained individuals in Transformative Justice on site to be able to respond with a holistic approach and in a swift manner. The goal of “T.J.” is to get at the root cause of the harm. I can now only look back and imagine how healing it could have been for me if someone took the time to sit down and ask me these questions and allow me to open up my feelings and pain as a young boy.

So in this case: What was it that upset the young person in the first place? Why did that trigger her/him? What experiences in the young persons past or in their home or community made them respond with harm/violence? Can we listen and try to understand the other persons perspective? Can we address the specific harm we caused to our peers? Do we see others in our community experiencing similar things and why? What can we agree to moving forward to both repair harm and help others in our community do the same?

I remember when I was getting into fights growing up, I was also angry about being poor and being bullied, angry about trauma I suffered through as a small child, and angry about family drama. Another time I remember getting socked in the jaw just cause I’m brown-it was a big school fight between Koreans, Mexicans, and Black students. Years later I realized these incidents were symptoms of the War On Youth, War On Gangs, and War On the Poor. A bunch of the kids involved in those fights I never saw again. Maybe they got suspended or expelled..snatched up by the school-to-jail track.

If we are truly Loving The Youth, situations like this should be utilized to make young people of color stronger and more mature human beings, not ashamed and upset. When I see these kids fighting at Sylmar, I see myself, too. If they can grow from this, so can I…so can we all.

Transformative Justice works. We’ve seen it literally save lives. It reminds us to value human life, to look at each life situation and individual holistically, and to treat each with love.

We need full-time Transformative/Restorative Justice Counselors on site at Sylmar High, every LAUSD School and every juvenile camp, hall, youth center, park, and organization. We need intervention workers on campus who grew up in the same communities as our students and understand where they are coming from, not more school police who criminalize them every day.

In addition, the L.A. 4 Youth Campaign seeks to re-direct just 5% of L.A. County Law Enforcement and Juvenile Incarceration systems budgets (over $100 million annually!) back towards Youth Development. This would include 25,000 Youth Jobs, 50 New Youth Centers, and 500 Trained Intervention Workers for our communities. This is a county-wide effort to build a Los Angeles that Loves The Youth, not one that locks them up and shuts them out.

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Author & Photo By: Emilio Lacques-Zapien

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