Is it just easier to blame the youth?

24 Jan

In some very disturbing news, an Assistant Principal at Steinmetz High School on Chicago’s northwest side was charged last week with misdemeanor battery, for allegedly dragging and pushing a 16 year old female student.  Here’s a report from Fox News, providing some details:

The incident began about 2 p.m. on Jan. 12 when the 16-year-old female student was walking through the hallway and she and the vice principal began to argue, according to a police report.

Jaramillo then dragged the girl by her sweatshirt down the hallway and threw her into a doorway. He allegedly placed his forearm against her neck, causing minor bruising, according to the report, which said a witness begged him to let her go, but he refused.

Surprised?  Not how you usually think of school violence?  While we were appalled to hear this story, the sad truth is that it fits with what we know.  The media presents an image of youth — and in particular, youth of color — on the rampage, committing acts of violence against one another on a daily basis.  (For more on media framing of youth violence, check out Moving from Them to Us, a 2009 report issued by the Prevention Institute.)  But despite what the media reports, we know from the young people we work with that the violence they experience is often perpetrated by adults in their lives.

Sadly, the media has done such a good job of telling us that young people are out of control, that the reader comments to the Fox News story are all focused on what the young woman must have done to “deserve” abuse at the hands of a school administrator.  Here are some examples:

There has to be more to this story. What was the girl doing prior to the vice principal taking action? I doubt he did that for no reason.
All the facts will come out eventually. I highly doubt that this teacher would just restrain her for no apparent reason!! Kids think they can behave like animals and then cry about how they were treated. If this particular student would have focused on her school work, then the teacher would not have even confronted her. I think that this teacher was defending himself and making sure that she is not hurting herself or others.

We shouldn’t overlook the fact that these comments are directed, not at all youth, but at low-income youth of color.  According to CPS, Steinmetz High School is 68% Latino and 18.6% African American.  94.4% of students are low income.  It is these youth in particular that are the focus of media stereotyping and are the targets of constant attempts to criminalize young people.

No wonder, then, that we’ve managed to build a society that expresses no empathy for a young woman from this community who has alleged violence at the hands of a school administrator — whose job, let’s not forget, is to create a safe school environment for her.

We can do betterThe question is NEVER: what did a 16-year old do to deserve abuse?  The question is: how can we build a school system that is safe for all students, and that does not tolerate violence?

We will be monitoring press coverage of this issue, as well as any responses from Steinmetz Academy and Chicago Public Schools.

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Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Media, Racism, Schools, Violence


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