There are many ways to stop youths from joining gangs. Having police officers enter a school, racial profiling of students , intimidation and collecting students’ personal information (even if they are not suspected of anything) are not some of them.
However, this is what happened in September 2010 at Hoover High School in Glendale, where Glendale and Los Angeles police officers took 55 students of Latino origin-allegedly, a non-Latino student who was with them was separated from the group-into a classroom. Then, the students were verbally intimidated, interrogated about their tattoos and other personal information, photographed and put on file as if they were gang members.
The school said this was an educational effort to deter students that school officials think are at risk from joining gangs. We think there is very little that is educational about this exercise, and it teaches the wrong lesson.
First, schools should be places that offer a sense of trust and protection, not somewhere where students are subject to arbitrary actions by police, who intimidated a group of students not suspected of any crimes. Second, selecting a group exclusively made up of Latinos is a foolish move, since it leaves the bad impression that law enforcement used racial profiling. Third, parents have the right to know in advance what the school has planned for their children.
Even worse, when the parents found out what happened, they asked the police to guarantee that the personal information obtained in the so-called educational action was destroyed, and their requests were refused.
Given the situation, parents and students turned to the American Civil Liberties Union to jointly file a lawsuit. Among other things, the suit seeks the destruction of any information police obtained at the school.
If this was truly an educational exercise, police should not keep the students’ personal information, since they are not crime suspects. If the information does remain on file, it is unacceptable for the school to have lent itself to this type of preventive police action.
What students at Glendale’s Hoover High School learned from this experience is that police can enter at any time, intimidate and open up files on innocent pupils-chosen because of their ethnicity-behind their parents’ backs and with the approval of school officials. What an awful lesson!