By Rich Bockmann
Whether he did it intentionally or not, state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) chose a grimly appropriate setting for his forum on youth violence last week.
Smith, along with state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), met with about 50 students, most of whom were young girls, at Hollis’ IS 192, on 204th St.
In February, 30-year old Jerry Lodvill was gunned down in the early evening hours on the sidewalk across Hollis Avenue from the school’s playground.
Lodvill’s 15-year-old sister said she was in the Queens Library branch just a few doors down when her brother was fatally shot, and on May 16 seventh-grader Jade Brunson recalled the event as just one example of the kinds of violence that occur in her neighborhood.
“I heard gunshots last night,” she added.
One of her classmates said a grown man had recently chased her and thrown eggs at her as she was walking along the street.
Assistant Principal Vivian Hill said about half of the students who were gathered in the classroom on the sunny afternoon were on the right track to heading off to high school next year. The other half, she said, were on the boundary between graduating and being held over a year “for whatever reasons. Some have social issues like fighting, others get into the situations that a lot of young people have.”
Brothers Lance and Todd Feurtado, ex-gang members from South Jamaica who speak about the dangers of street life through their King of Kings Foundation, said the young children were at the age when they are particularly susceptible to falling victim to the prison-industrial system.
The system, Lance said, uses third- and fourth-grade reading levels when deciding where to build future prisons.
“If you can’t read and write, you can’t fill out a job application and you can’t fill out a public assistance application,” he said, “you have to revert to the streets.”
Lance asked the students how many of them either knew or had a family member in prison, and when almost every hand in the room shot up, Smith was taken aback.
“Barbara, I think we have some work to do,” he told the assemblywoman.
When it came time to voice their concerns, several students expressed dissatisfaction with their school environment.
At that point, Smith left his seat along the side of the classroom, took his suit jacket off, sat among the students and asked if they were mayor, what would they change about their school?
Xiara Clarke said she would provide more books and calculators so that students did not have to share. Another student said she would like to see the school’s air conditioner fixed.
Another young girl, who said she was sent to the meeting from a neighboring school, said she would like to see the suspension system reformed. The student, who asked that her name not be used, claimed she had received excessive suspensions when she was acting in self-defense.
Liz Sullivan, with the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York, agreed that the citywide suspension system needs to be changed.
“There is a lot of research, like from the American Psychological Association, that has shown that suspensions just don’t work,” she said. “They don’t deter future misconduct, they don’t reduce conflicts and they don’t make schools safer.”
The group is petitioning the city Department of Education to reduce the number of behavior infractions in its discipline code that result in suspension and instead adopt alternative practices such as positive intervention and resolution mediation.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.