Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Free Range Kids: A Juan Percent Type Of Thing?

Earlier this month, Danielle Meitiv's two elementary school aged kids were yet again picked up by Child Protective Services. This time, they were about 5 minutes from home. And this time around, they were held away from their parents for hours, and denied food and restroom access. The kids are 6 and 10. Apparently, a 'neighbor' called the cops, who then called CPS. And then this went viral yet again.

Today, the Washington Post published a response from Montgomery County offering clarity on the legality of allowing children to be unescorted in public. In sum, the police do not need to send children to CPS if they do not suspect neglect, and the kids should be taken home.. That was clear from the opening of the story. But then the rest of the story talks about the ambiguities the 6-page memo introduced yet again. At the very least, it offered no clarity on whether a neighbor's call to report unescorted kids would immediately trigger an investigation of neglect.

This situation has struck a chord with me. I don't have kids, but I like kids. I minored in Education, spent 10 years working with and teaching kids at summer camps, and I started my working life as an education policy analyst studying the No Child Left Behind Act.

 I've also made some very deliberate life decisions in order to raise what may be called "Free Range" kids: Juan 6 and I purposefully settled in a city with after-school and summer camp programs that are way more robust than what our parents were able to find for us as kids. We also bought about a quarter mile from our local elementary school, which I'm excited about because it's the only school that is still majority minority. Assuming our kids are capable of the responsibility of caring for themselves, we expect to let them walk to and from school on their own or out to extra curricular activities, also on their own.

As their (future) parents, we are committed livable streets and community activists because we want infrastructure in place that allows our kids to be independent. This means safe sidewalks and safe, highly visible crossings. This means buffered bike paths. This means street trees, and walking buses, and more kids walking, and walking in groups. This means changing the road geometry in front of our street in order to cut the 85% percentile speed to under 15 miles an hour (so I can lobby the max limit down to 20.) This means robust, affordable, and engaging after-school programming that my kids can access without my having to take them there myself (because I will be working to support them, and to be a productive member of society).

That said, our kids will be mixed race. We don't really know what they will look like, but given what J6 and I look like, it's highly unlikely they will elicit the kind of suspicion that brings worry and fear to the minds and hearts of mothers of black (and brown) sons in the U.S. We also live in an urban place that is, comparatively speaking, quite sterile. We don't have the same kind of gang turf battles and active street-level drug dealing in Santa Monica that they do elsewhere.

But absent in this discussion about the Meitivs' situation and the free range kid movement is what does it mean to be a child of color in a neighborhood more like the one I grew up in, and less like an affluent section of suburban Maryland? If the Meitivs' kids were black, would the police and neighbors have been as concerned? Or would they have been scared? Or ignored the kids altogether because of stereotypes about people of color? All unclear, but all interesting questions.

Monday, April 27, 2015


I very much wish it were J5, my father-in-law, writing this instead of me because he'd wax poetic in ways that I just cannot. I'm still trying to grasp exactly what is happening in Balitmore. There's so  much that I can't completely wrap my arms around it. I will try anyway, because there is rioting in Baltimore and I am enormously sad for a couple of reasons. The one that makes me saddest is how I am not surprised because we live in a country that has systematized the oppression of people of color for centuries, in particular black men, and people are rightfully angry. They are furious.

A twenty-five year old named Freddy Gray died of serious spinal injuries after his arrest last week. Mr. Gray's funeral was today (dammit. I typed "wedding", then deleted it, then realized Mr. Gray will never have a wedding because he was killed for no good reason.) Some protesters (perhaps 100 out of several thousands) shifted to rioting. There has been looting, street fires, arrests and the declaration of a state of emergency.

An organizer for the Baltimorean chapter of the Sierra Club shared this on his personal Facebook feed:

He later reminded us of this:

Hey folks, I can't claim to know exactly what happened here. I wasn't there, and I've learned a lot more over the past few hours. A lot has changed since the initial action at Mondawmin Mall and the situation has evolved extensively. In retrospect, I don't think "100% bought and paid for by the police department" is the right statement to use anymore. There is MUCH more at play here than just the police, a meme that may or may not have gone viral intentionally, gangs, "thugs", or the death of one person. Instead, an analysis in my own words of the 5 step genesis of today's actions is this: the pot boiled over.
We have stoked the fires with racism and systematic oppression for decades, and we have been naive enough to think we could avoid the boiling point by "controlling" the situation with a heavy militarized police presence. Although I condemn the use of violence as a tactic for change, I understand why it feels to some as their last resort.
I don't fault the police for doing their job and using the tools at their disposal to quell that violence, but I do fault the systems of oppression that have made it okay for the police to have those tools in the first place. So, to answer your questions/comments with my own words (instead of some I copied and pasted from a trusted and still very much respected friend): The police didn't want to create this threat, but they/we did anyway. It was proactive policing AND it was manufactured...by our own negligence of communities that have been crying out for help and not getting what they ask for because we haven't actually been listening.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Boston Marathon bomber trial ends with guilty verdicts; what next?

Tsarnaev's Mug Shot (via Wikipedia)
Today, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was pronounced guilty on all 30 counts associated with his role in the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, by far the worst massacre attack since the events of September 11th. Next: Sentencing. How do Bostonians feel about the death penalty? They will work through that in the intervening weeks and maybe months (I'm not sure).

Although I live in California, I have a personal connection to all of this. I was in Cambridge during the manhunt that ensued a few days after the bombing due a conference I was attending for university social media managers. In fact, I left the very building at MIT where the Tsarnaev brothers started their rampage about 60 minutes prior. I was staying in Cambridge, and had to go into lockdown mode with the friend who was hosting me during the Manhunt the next day. We got to go out basically after the Mayor of Boston, the late Thomas Menino, tweeted, "We got him. #oneboston".

I'd like to take a moment to pause. Many lives were lost, an entire region's sense of safety and confidence was shaken, and we learned a great deal about how terrorists can indoctrinate young Americans. It actually speaks so much to how do we educate our children and our teenagers, how do we provide them with opportunities and engage them in and outside of school, particularly those who are from low-income families that have some level of dysfunction (as was the case here). I'm thankful to live in a municipality that takes this complex set of issues very seriously.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Day Juan Always Knew Would Come Has Actually Come (Drought Edition)

Governor Jerry Brown has imposed a mandatory 25% reduction in water via an executive order he signed into effect earlier this week, and no, it is not an April Fool's Day joke. California is now in its 4th year of drought --sliding very quickly into year 5 -- and the voluntary reductions of 20% that the Governor asked Californians to make last January were insufficient, as reported by the New York Times.

It's now up to the State Water Resources Board to impose and enforce compliance.

I've heard people say that they can't reduce their water further. Have they been taking bucket baths? No? Then no, you haven't done enough to reduce your water usage. I heard one person announce in front of Council that she had already done that and was stressed out about how she'd reduce further. She had my 100% empathy. I was so glad she told us she was doing that because maybe it made it more socially acceptable to take bucket baths too.

Out in Claremont, residents voted affirmatively to take steps to control their own water future. The topic of water is of great interest to my father-in-law. Every time I opened the Claremont Courier (admittedly, not that often but still, more often than someone who lives 47 miles away), there were stories and op-eds about water. Claremonters are very worried about their water.

You can check out this song written my by friend Stacey. She and her band sing about the drought and Uncle Jerry.