Riverside County(California) Facing Lawsuit for Oppressive Law Enforcement Towards Students

I’m going to widen the scope of this blog a little bit to cover a story in California that I found equal parts absurd and infuriating, but it is related to issues covered regularly here. Per Carimah Townes of the Appeal, Riverside County is being sued by four plaintiffs claiming that the county is annually funneling an estimated 400 students per year into the Youth Accountability probation program under such labels as “pre delinquent” and “delinquent” for extremely vague accusations of misconduct which ends up having huge negative effects on the kids targeted. Unsurprisingly there is also a discriminatory aspect to this funneling as Towne notes. “According to the lawsuit, YAT probation skirts due process, leads to unreasonable searches and seizures under California law, violates the right to freedom of expressive association, and adversely impacts Black and Latino students like Andrew.” (Townes) The Andrew mentioned(one of the plaintiffs) was a 13 year old goofing around with his friends at school during lunch when he accidentally kicked an orange in the direction of a Moreno Valley officer stationed in the area. Unfortunately the officer decided to arrest him on grounds that I am really having an impossible time figuring out. An officer putting cuffs on a 13 year for kicking an orange paints a terrifying image that seems to summarize the state of policing in this country, and their relationships to marginalized people. The officer used the arrest as justification to search in Andrews backpack in which he found, gasp, Marijuana. Andrew then was forced to discuss probation at the Police station and was basically coerced into joining the Youth Accountability probation program in exchange for avoiding Juvenile court.

Here’s what Andrew had to deal with after signing the contract to join the program. “He(Andrew) had to attend school, earn good grades, abide by an 8 p.m. curfew, participate in 25 hours of community service, meet with a probation officer regularly, follow all YAT instructions, go to counseling, go to weekly programs facilitated by the Moreno Valley Police Department, and visit a correctional facility. Any violation could result in a referral to the Riverside County district attorney’s office for possible prosecution. Upon signing, Andrew was repeatedly forced to leave class to talk to YAT officers, who also conducted house visits. On one occasion, he was pulled out of class to fill out a YAT survey, even though it meant he would miss a Spanish quiz. Even after sticking to these strict conditions, Andrew was still summoned to Superior Court less than two weeks after signing. He ultimately pleaded guilty to the marijuana possession charge and received a sentence of 10 community service hours, an agreement to complete a drug test, and a fine.” (Towne) Basically, a student that gets funneled into the program is forced to live like they’re in a police state and can have this stuff used against them by the district attorney if they don’t cooperate. Notice how terrifyingly vague those standards for delinquency are. Good grades? Are you fucking kidding me? Under this program, law enforcement can force a student with bad grades into a situation where they can find themselves being prosecuted! Even more horrifying was the mention of a student being sent to the program after school staff complained that he “pulled the race card on them.” I can only imagine this scene as a student rightly pointing out the schools racist behavior and as usual racists are the biggest cowards imaginable so they respond viciously by jeopardizing the students future. Even if the student was doing what they accused him of doing, their actions are still discriminatory and absurd but sadly they’re not uncommon. Black students were 2.5 times more likely to be targets for the program and Latino students 1.5 times.

According to Townes the YAT program was established in 2001 under the ostensible purpose of identifying at risk youth so they can help get them in a different, better direction. But the program isn’t really being used in this way as the lawsuit alleges, but rather it’s used as a punishing tool and a convenient way for law enforcement to skirt around a students civil rights. Hannah Comstock of the ACLU, who is helping represent the plaintiffs, accurately states that “It’s kind of like this expedited version of the school-to-prison pipeline by having this extrajudicial system operating exclusively through the school.” By operating exclusively through the school, Law enforcement is able to coerce students who don’t have full knowledge of their rights and no legal counsel present. The program allows law enforcement to build up extensive profiles of their targets which are then accessible down the line for future prosecution. The attitude of the program is summed up in this passage of the article, “In a YAT presentation recounted in the book Psyche-Soul-ology: An Inspirational Approach to Appreciating and Understanding Troubled Kids, Debbie Waddell, a former senior probation officer, was quoted as saying that YAT is used to “get them into the system by fingerprinting and photographing them. We can search their homes any time we want and work to obtain evidence against them so that when we can get ’em, we can really get ’em!” Former Deputy District Attorney Anthony Villalobos, who participated in the same presentation, also explained, “We can do all kinds of surveillance, including wiretaps on phones, without having to get permission from a judge.”(Townes) Those quotes made me honestly want to throw up. These people are so happy over being granted the power to screw over students lives, it is sadistic. When the rightwing evokes “law and order” as a core part of what they believe the country should like, this is what is being advocated. Debbie Waddell gleefully exclaiming “We can search their homes any time we want and work to obtain evidence against them so that when we can get ’em, we can really get ’em!”

There is even more to the program that damages these students futures. If a person who had completed the YAT program has to show up in court for a low level offense, they are no longer eligible for diversion. If they fail the YAT program, that failure can be used against them in their prosecution. Over 10,000 students have had to deal with this shit, and about 25% are for non criminal offenses.  This is all under the guise of a mentorship program supposedly to help these kids futures! But they’re using it to create a pipeline to prison and a cycle of suffering for the students involved. As Corey Jackson of the Sigma Beta Xi mentorship program (one of the plaintiffs) asserts, “It’s being sold to these school districts as a mentoring program. There is nothing in the program that has anything to do with mentoring, based upon best practices and national standards.” The plaintiffs are specifically asking to prohibit the signing of coercive contracts without fully explaining to the student their rights. They also want to end the searches of students homes, the build up of their profiles for future use, and the discrimination that infests the program. I really hope they succeed because I just can’t get over how evil this is. People who defend law enforcement’s every action will of course defend this one, and I just don’t get it. What about this is right? What about this is good service to the community? We’ve so valorized anyone that wears a uniform that for many, they can do no wrong. Well nobody is a hero for putting on a uniform, they’re heroes for doing the right thing and helping others, which this very much isn’t. When marginalized people assert that they face harshness in policing that others don’t, how can anyone read this story and not believe them? I’m not saying the police are evil or someone is evil for joining the police but i’m tired of them being able to get away with so much, with so little accountability. They are supposed to serve the people, not the prosecution, and not the prison industrial system. The DA too should be ashamed of themselves, but that is nothing new. DA’s in the United States are overzealous to the extreme and are partly responsible for the racial discrimination rife in sentencing. I’m sorry for the sanctimonious rambling but it’s upsetting to see kids being set up for failure by people who are supposed to be there to protect them. 

 

Opinions are Jake Morask’s not Law offices


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