Local Organizers Take on Disparities and Call to Action
“I love Fresno.” This rarely leaves the lips of Fresno residents or visitors. Shame of our city hovers thickly, holding hands with the smog that never wants to leave.
For more than two decades, I have witnessed the overinvestment in north Fresno (e.g., River Park). Simultaneously, low-income people and people of color are pushed into south Fresno, stuck in the quicksand of abandonment, faulty investments (e.g., the Metropolitan Museum), police brutality and system-inflicted
According to a 2008 report, The Enduring Challenge of Concentrated Poverty in America: Case Studies from Communities across the U.S., more than 23% of Fresno residents lived below the poverty level, nearly double the state average of 12%. In west Fresno, 51% lived below the poverty level. This was more than four times the state average. Who lives in west Fresno? Low-income people and people of color.
The “Haves” and the “Have Nots”
If you grew up in Fresno, you knew that north Fresno was (or is considered to be) “the good side of town” and all the statistics above did not apply. There are small pockets of concentrated poverty on “that side of town,” but they are out of sight and rarely mentioned, like that “bad” relative you might not talk about or want people to see. Nonetheless, these disparities do exist and one need look no further than Fresno’s public schools.
According to 2007–2008 statistics from the California Department of Education, Black and Latino/a youth dropped out at a rate of 26%–30%. This was above the White youth rate of 20.5% and the state average of 23.9%. Out of all the public high schools in the Fresno Unified School District, Bullard had the lowest dropout rate at 9.4%, whereas McLane had the highest rate at 28.1%.
Demographically, according to its 2008–2009 School Accountability Report Card, Bullard reported 47.2% White and 30% of its students as socioeconomically disadvantaged. McLane reported 57.2% Latino/a, 24.1% Asian and 9% African American, with 100% being socioeconomically disadvantaged. Is this a coincidence? I think not.
Pushed Out: Suspensions, Expulsions and On-Campus Police Officers
In October 2009, Californians for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California submitted a Public Records Act request to Fresno Unified to examine school discipline and the role of law enforcement on campus. Here are some key findings:
• At Bullard, Edison and Fresno high schools, the number of Black students who dropped out, were suspended and were expelled was disproportionately high compared to the number enrolled, whereas the number of students that graduated was disproportionately low. For example, at Edison, 24% of the student body was Black, yet Black students accounted for 59% of expulsions, 45% of suspensions, 35% of dropouts and only 22% of graduates.
• In 2008–2009, FUSD spent more than 950,000 to employ eight full-time police officers and eight full-time county probation officers to be on site at the nine high schools in addition to the maintenance costs for two police patrol cars.
There is an obvious pattern of racial profiling, and it seems that Fresno Unified would rather spend nearly $1 million to militarize our schools than on quality resources and teachers.
It’s All Love
I expect to “step on some toes” and hear claims that I am making this a race and class “thing.” Well, I am because it is a race and class “thing,” as well as a gender and sexual orientation “thing,” brought about by our institutions, our schools and belief systems dictated by the mainstream media and those that oppress us.
All is not “well” when the youth whom you organize with on a daily basis are being pushed out and oppressed because they were born into a society that looks down on you if you are not male, White, rich and heterosexual.
Call to Action!
The more we unite, hold our local decision makers accountable and take more risks, the more pressure there will be on these decision makers and the more likely change will come. But it has to come from the bottom up—from us, the oppressed. Let’s fight for a better Fresno!
Oh, Fresno, the “Belly of the Beast,” how I love thee so.