Thursday, February 17, 2005

Parenting For Politicians

Our meditating, miso-drinking, dog-loving mayor wants to beef up his image. Jerry Brown wants to go back to Sacramento as Attorney General, California’s top cop. Unfortunately the “strong mayor” doesn’t look strong; he looks tired and bored, so he has to take tough stands. Political consultants and the Oakland Tribune have re-invented Jerry as the “Crime Stopper.” As part of the PR push to pump up the Mayor’s image, he rolled out the “curfew” plan for parolees.

Mayor Brown noticed that people come out of our prisons and they aren’t “rehabilitated,” in fact they are very likely to get involved in more trouble. So Jerry decided that the same unsuccessful approach that is being applied within prisons would work in Oakland, take away their freedom. The curfew keeps parolees locked in their homes from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am, it’s sort of a “time out “ “you’re grounded” approach to urban youth and crime.

Oakland has something of a crisis of critical thinking when it comes to politicians. They all want to look tough, so most went along with this bad plan. “ They just have to take some responsibility” that’s the rationale one council staffer gave me. Here’s the problem, most kids in “the system” have little or no family support, they get punished, thrown out, and beaten based on the same rationale, “you have to take some responsibility.” Any thoughtful parent will tell you “ time out” or “ curfew” is for the parents so they can calm down and figure out how to help and guide their child. Punishment in the absence of parenting does not make responsible adults.

Two adolescent boys lived in the neighborhood around my work. They lived in a run down house with their adoptive mother. Their mom died of cancer with little support and the boys struggling to care for her. The home health nurse tried to get some help for the boys but there was none. At about 14 and 15 years old they were left in the house (they didn’t own it because they weren’t officially adopted). They got lost and sad and the house became more and more run down. The kids got sick and hurt and into more and more trouble. They got evicted, the house was boarded up, and the kids had nowhere to go. They wandered the neighborhood, it was the only home they ever had. They were in and out of jail and I suppose they are in prison now. They are nice kids. We completely failed them.

Oakland youth know we’re afraid of them and that we don’t like them. They expect to be locked up, harassed, and treated like criminals, even those who aren’t. We get kids at Highland Hospital all the time who are working hard and “taking responsibility,” they get shot paralyzed, hurt or killed. The Oakland police department doesn’t investigate their cases; they barely take reports. Our kids get crippled and government moves forward as if nothing happened. It breaks their hearts and their spirits to loose so much and be treated so badly.

Stay at home, “you have to take some responsibility”. See if you don’t have adults to teach you what that means its just more punishment, it will fail for the same reasons that the prisons fail. Oakland parents talk about keeping their children alive and out of jail into adulthood. They worry about the crime, and the police. Oakland’s politicians feel safer with our youth locked up or locked in. Careful parents don’t just protect their children; they prepare them to live in the world and to make it a better place. I explain to my children that Mayor Brown and many of the City Council Representatives are racist, stupid and mean, but that most of the people who live in Oakland are not.

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