Young Men's Initiative: The White Mayor's Burden

Bloomberg aims to help the young black and Latino men he has been throwing in jail for a decade

Just how big is the force of School Safety Agents? If they made up a stand-alone police department, Lieberman says, they'd comprise "the fifth-largest in the nation . . . There are more School Safety Agents than there are cops on the streets of Baltimore, Newark, Detroit, Boston, [or] Washington, D.C."

To put in perspective how absurd their power is, how zero tolerance can go awry, and how out-of-touch the mayor is regarding the effect this has on boys of color, Lieberman tells the story of a student named Biko Edwards.

Biko was a student at Samuel J. Tilden High School, which Lieberman characterizes as "the worst school on the list. It was an educational disaster."

Bloomberg’s annual average of low-level pot arrests is greater than all of Koch’s, Dinkins’s, and the first two years of Giuliani’s—combined.
Drug Policy Alliance and Harry Levine/marijuana-arrests.com
Bloomberg’s annual average of low-level pot arrests is greater than all of Koch’s, Dinkins’s, and the first two years of Giuliani’s—combined.
Drug Policy Alliance and Harry Levine/marijuana-arrests.com

"Biko and his mom came in because he was beaten and arrested for being late to class," Lieberman says. "He was staying late to talk to his math teacher, and he didn't get a pass, and he was running to chem lab. And he got nabbed, beat up, Maced," by a School Safety Agent, Lieberman describes. "He was arrested, sent to central booking, and then suspended for four days. And his grades went from decent to plummet."

Lieberman says she found out Biko was a good soccer player, and said to him: "'Look, how do you feel about this school? Are you comfortable going back to school?' And he said, 'I'm scared.' And we arranged for him to look at other schools, and he ultimately transferred to MLK, which has the premier soccer team in the city."

Biko, she says, "was a star player on the team. He's in college now . . . and he played on the farm team for the MetroStars," the New York region's professional soccer club (now the Metro Red Bulls).

While still in high school, Biko had the chance to go to Gracie Mansion the year MLK won the championships.

There's a picture of the team posing with the mayor there. Bloomberg is kneeling, surrounded by handsome young black and brown boys. He grins awkwardly like Daddy Warbucks, an oblivious great white hope enveloped by people he wouldn't normally hang with (but whom his white man's burden would, years later, compel him to aid).

And standing right next to him, smiling just as awkwardly, is Biko.

"The mayor has no idea that his school 'safety' policies put this kid in jail overnight and left him battered and forced out of his high school," Lieberman says quietly.

There is a lot exciting in the Young Men's Initiative. But judging from what it leaves out, it seems that Bloomberg is still just as oblivious about how his policies harm the very population he now wants to help as he was when he was grinning next to Biko.

sthrasher@villagevoice.com

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