Community Rights Campaign
In-depth investigative reporting on HuffPo: "LA Moves Haltingly Toward Ending Fines for Truancy"
In an in-depth story on the Huffington Post, investigative reporter Susan Ferriss (iWatch News) delves into two students' harsh treatment by police, raising questions as to whether new guidelines issued last year by LAPD and LASPD to curb truancy and tardy policing are working:
Fifteen-year-old Juan Carlos Amezcua was just five minutes late for school, and already at the corner by Theodore Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles when a school police cruiser’s siren went off last Nov. 16. The consequences of what happened next — handcuffing, allegations of rough treatment and a $250 daytime curfew ticket — are still resonating here.
Shut up or I'll slap you in the face
Amezcua and his cousin, also 15, were emerging from a market near their school in Los Angeles' tough Boyle Heights neighborhood when officers stopped the teens, handcuffed and searched them. When Amezcua said the two were going to school and added, "You can't do this," an officer used profanity and told him to "shut ... up or else I'll slap you in the face," according to the complaint filed Feb. 3.
One of officers took Amezcua's baseball cap off and once he was in the car threw it in his face, the complaint alleges. And instead of driving directly into the closest school lot, the complaint says, the officers circled the campus and sped up at each turn, causing the handcuffed students, who were not wearing seatbelts, to slide against the car doors and for one of them to strike his head against the car window.
Being stopped by police leaves a deep mark
Zoe Rawson, lawyer with the Community Rights Campaign, explains why students and their parents are outraged by the treatment:
Being stopped by a police officer “leaves a deep mark and a certain perspective about the culture we live in. It is being treated as a potential offender,” said Zoe Rawson, a lawyer who represents ticketed students in Los Angeles who, data show, have been mostly Latino and black and from low-income areas. “For someone who is disengaged from school, it pushes them away even more.”
Mapping racial discrimination in ticketing
The article points to the role of the CRC's GIS density maps of the 47,000 tickets in bringing the racially discriminatory impacts of the ticketing law to light:
The Center created maps showing that ticketing was concentrated around lower-income Latino and black neighborhood schools. The data also indicated that not one of the more than 13,000 students ticketed during those years by the Los Angeles School Police was identified as white, although whites are 13 percent of that district's population.
A judge takes action
Ferriss interviews LA County Juvenile Court presiding judge, Michael Nash, about why he has taken action against punitive truancy and tardy ticketing, including issuing new court rules in January that instruct court officers to stop imposing fines, to assign community service hours instead of fines, and to direct students to counselling services.
"I'm not interested in collecting money," Nash told the Center for Public Integrity. Fines, he said, have proved "onerous. At the end of the day, it's not an effective system."
A new report by a task force chaired by Nash urges a more wholistic and supportive approach using counselling and remediation services instead of the harsh punitive policing.
Councilmember Tony Cardenas moves to change the law
Ferriss asks Councilmember Tony Cardenas to explain a key element of the current proposal he has brought before LA City Hall to amend the truancy law (LAMC 45.04).
Officers would be barred from enforcing the curfew at entrances to school or nearby, and would have to show that they talked to minors and write down on tickets reasons officers were convinced a youth was truly truant.
The amendments would also establish a "rebuttable presumption" that students are traveling to school if they are within a three-block radius during the first 60 minutes of school. Officers would be barred from enforcing the curfew at entrances to school or nearby, and would have to show that they talked to minors and write down on tickets reasons officers were convinced a youth was truly truant.
"They would have to use some discretion instead of just saying, 'You know what, kid? Tough cookies,' " said Tony Cardenas, the councilman who introduced the proposals. Bernard Parks, a council member who was chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, also backs the proposed changes.
New approach: Counselors, not police
Cardenas also explains why it's necessary to create student support services that address the root causes of students' attendance issues.
"Truancy rates are directly correlated to low graduation rates," Cardenas added. "But kids should be dealing with a counselor trained to talk to a young mind."
The city has developed a dozen facilities called WorkSource Youth Centers to help provide services as part of this alternative plan, supporters say. A Federal Workforce Investment grant of at least $10 million, awarded last September, will help pay for more staff to specifically address truancy.
Read the full story, "Los Angeles Moves Haltingly Toward Ending Fines for Truancy"
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