Students criticize security officers and metal detectors
By Maria Clark
Teens from around the Bronx gathered in Longwood in August to rap, recite poetry, and speak out against teen violence, while also criticizing policies that put metal detectors and overzealous security officers in their schools.
The event, at the studio of Longwood area hip-hop recording artists Rebel Diaz, and at a companion gathering at St. James Park in the Fordham section, were part of Choose to Change, an initiative established in 2008 by a coalition of activists, local students and Bronx-based youth advocacy organizations.
After a series of meetings last year, the coalition decided to focus on school-related issues, including two that have drawn widespread criticism–metal detectors at the schoolhouse door and the way school security officers treat students. In addition, the gatherings called for students themselves to defuse violence in their schools through mediation.
“Schools are preparing kids more for jail than for college,” said Kelsey Rennebohm of Soundview-based Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, which has been involved in the creation of the project from the beginning.
At the St. James Park event, 18 year-old Dockeem Barnes spoke out against the violence in a skit he performed. Barnes, who was once assaulted by gang members, dropped out of Dewitt Clinton High School, but later went on to get his GED. He is now working as a youth organizer at Brothers and Sisters United, a non-profit group based in the Northwest Bronx.
“I got jumped by 20 people for 30 minutes in the school and nobody did anything,” said Barnes. “They can give you a safety transfer but that only means the gangs gets bigger while we get smaller.”
The coalition hopes teens like Barnes can use the music and poetry performances to discuss solutions to the problem of violence in the streets and in schools, and have some fun doing it.
“This way kids don’t have to be afraid to say what they have to say, without anyone looking down on them for it,” said event organizer and emcee Timothy Holmes, 18.
Rennebohm says “restorative justice” programs for teens—in which victims, offenders and community members are brought together to repair whatever harm has been done—have been proven to work, and should be used in schools citywide. Zero tolerance policies have led to hiked suspension rates, she said, showing that they make problems worse.
“Kids are arrested for issues that wouldn’t be criminal outside schools,” she said.
Kim Wilson, 18, her sister Krystal, 15, and their friend Lourd Jackson, 17, took the stage to recite poems and perform a skit. Kim, who will soon be a senior at Lehman High School, believes distrust between students and administration is a primary cause for violence in her school.
“This open-mic performance is a way of trying to improve communication for me,” she said.
Her sister Krystal, a sophomore at the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts in Harlem, says tight security in her school is more of a nuisance than a necessity.
“Most kids just want to get to school without being hassled. They won’t bring guns, and if someone did, we should be able to report them anonymously,” she said.
Students have to wait in long lines to get through the metal detectors, sometimes even missing their first class, she said.
“I know that these metal detectors protect us. But some students will go ahead and skip their morning classes just so they won’t have to wait in line,” he said.
Jackson, a senior at Truman High School, says that better communication between the security officers and the students at Truman is a necessity.
“The majority of the students have a sense of pride in their school,” he said.
A version of this story appeared in the September edition of the Hunts Point Express.