Friday, January 18, 2013

Report: S. Euclid “Youth in Peril” Forum + Today's Events

Report on South Euclid “Youth in Peril” Forum
Attorney and former assistant 
prosecutor Jocelyn Conwell on how a
juvenile record can bedevil adults.

School Board president
Cassandra Jones lauds Judge Michael Ryan

Judge Williams-Byers and Professor Naso listen as teacher
Karen Jones responds to audience question.

South Euclid resident Angela Shute-Wilson 
addresses the Youth-in-Peril panel.

South Euclid resident Gregory Moore urged 
the community to finda way to continue the City's 
court diversion program this summer.

Case Western Reserve University professor
and City Council president David Miller speaks
from audience about the consequences when
children are witness to domestic violence
Marko Fikaris recalls his
outsider status as South Euclid child

Police Chief Kevin Nietert listening
 as community member speaks

An active and engaged band of nearly 40 citizens turned out Wednesday night to listen to and question local community leaders about alternatives and programs for young people, especially those in the 12-15 age range, to deter them from pursuing activities that might push them into the juvenile justice system.

Councilwoman Ruth Gray
 The meeting, held at the South Euclid Community Center, was called by the city council's safety committee, chaired by Ruth Gray. Panel members included three judges —Alison Nelson Floyd and Michael John Ryan from Juvenile Court, and Gayle Williams-Byers of South Euclid Municipal Court — as well as S. Euclid police chief Kevin Nietert, service director Keith A. Benjamin, South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools director of business services, Karen Jones of Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education and teacher at Memorial Jr. High in South Euclid; Case Western Reserve law professor and juvenile justice expert Carmen Naso; and Chad Welker of the school district’s business services, including security.

Benjamin said that 38% of all young people who get involved with juvenile court wind up in the criminal justice system as adults. He urged swifter resolution of juvenile cases and emphasized that where and with whom children spend their out-of-school time plays a critical role in their destinies.

Police Chief Nietert emphasized his belief in the court diversion program previously operating within South Euclid but said that it had been possible only due to a federal grant that had expired. Since the district had only $5 thousand to run a program costing $10-15 thousand, the city was likely not to participate in 2013.

CH-UH board member and SE-L schoolteacher Karen Jones had some strong ideas about how teachers must be involved in the lives of their students. She said a “good teacher has to be a risk-taker” and inquire after the lives of her students.

“You can’t just wear blinders and say ‘I’m just teaching social studies,’” said Jones. “I don’t want my students to ever meet Judges Floyd or Ryan in court.”

Following the presentations there was high participation from residents. A businessman in the audience, Gregory Moore, challenged city leadership and residents to come up with a plan to ensure the diversion program continues in 2013. “No plan, no dollars. No dollars, no plan,” he said.

Judge Williams-Byers said that she had “been in dialogue with the school superintendent and the principal of Memorial Jr. High regarding the diversion program” as well as a peer court model, and that she would take the lead in following up with Juvenile Court regarding extension of a court diversion program.

Marko Fikaris related his family’s move to South Euclid in 1979 when as a sixth or seventh grader he was presented with numerous challenges because he was an outsider. He said that ingredients for a successful life start from the home.

Two or three parents in the audience spoke with particular reference to five streets in the southwest corner of South Euclid that are within the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district. One said that living in one city while going to school in another raised peer issues of loyalty and identity among students.

As the meeting adjourned, a consensus seemed to be reached that officials would hold regular public sessions on a quarterly basis, in addition to the actions they would pursue over the next sixty days. *

Today’s Community Events

Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson will be the featured speaker tonight, Friday January 18, at the 12th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Gala, sponsored by the Cleveland chapter Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The program will be held at the Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church, 1161 East 105 St. [map]

State Sen. Nina Turner will be honored at the 7 PM dinner. For information or tickets [$50.] call Marcia McCoy at 216.374.0913 or 216.752.0259.
• • •

The ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Judge Cassandra Collier-Williams takes place this afternoon at 4:30PM at Cleveland City Hall, 601 Lakeside Ave., in City Council chambers. Collier-Williams was elected to the Common Pleas Court in November.

* I was unable to arrive before several on the panel had spoken.

East Cleveland Citizens Want Answers from City Officials

The turmoil in East Cleveland knows almost no bounds these days. The city has returned to fiscal emergency, the mayor shows no respect to the city council he once presided over and the council shows him the same disdain. The city’s elected leaders seem unable to agree on virtually anything except an abiding love for their broken city.

NOAH members stand at East Cleveland City Council
meeting as letter is read addressing city's budget crisis.
Mayor Gary Norton is seated in foreground.
This past Tuesday, however, a group of East Cleveland residents, organized by the nonprofit community action group known as NOAH [the Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope]* packed East Cleveland’s tiny council chambers and read aloud a courteous but emphatic summons to the mayor and council president.

The letter invites both the mayor and the council president to attend a moderated forum on January 28 to discuss the budget and the budget process.

The mayor immediately announced that he would attend the forum. We are awaiting a response from the council president and will update this post when we hear from her.

The full text of the NOAH letter is as follows:

The Honorable Mayor Gary Norton          Council President Joy Jordan 
East Cleveland, OH                                     East Cleveland, OH

The recent actions of elected leaders in East Cleveland threaten to decimate the safety of the residents of East Cleveland. Over the past few years, East Cleveland has made significant gains in reducing crime and improving police response time. In light of the recent budget crisis that has resulted in drastic cuts in safety forces in our city, residents are disappointed to view community leaders resorting to bickering and ad hominem attacks. Residents want a government that works together to address the challenges that face our community. The residents of East Cleveland deserve a government that reflects their dedication and devotion to this community.
The NOAH Core Team invites you both to attend a moderated forum to discuss the budget. The forum will take place on:

Monday, January 28th
Time: 6:30pm
New Covenant Lutheran Church
1424 Hayden Ave.
East Cleveland Ohio 44112

This is an opportunity for the Mayor and the Council President to discuss the City’s current budget condition and the budget process in an objective non-biased forum.    The moderator and the audience will ask questions.
Please contact the NOAH office at 216-834-2324 or email us at to respond to this invitation. We look forward to a civil and informative discussion. Thank you.

* My company, AGS MEDIA LLC, has done consulting work for NOAH. However, we had no involvement in NOAH’s decision to take the actions referred to in this post.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Community Committee Against Gun Violence

The political organization MoveOn is sponsoring a community meeting against gun violence today, January 17 at 7PM at the Bedford area, Cuyahoga County Library, 70 Columbus Rd, Bedford, OH 44146. (Map) 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Transitional Communities Putting Youth in Peril, say former prosecutor, councilwoman

Stop me if you’ve lived this one: you are running to get away from some situation that you know is dangerous, unhealthy, or just unpleasant. You find an area that seems just the opposite: safe, healthy, and pleasant. You settle in, breathing sighs of relief and rejoicing, only to find that you are received as an outsider, as different, unwanted. Your manner, language, dress, customs, and culture — in short YOU — are not wanted in this perceived oasis of wholesomeness. And what follows is so psychologically uncomfortable and assaultive that you to think of the troubles you fled with fond reminiscence.

Sound familiar? I’m not talking about immigration. Actually, I am, just not from country to country. I am talking about a situation I suspect most of us have faced to some degree at one time or another in our lives. Colloquially, you might call it “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.

It’s the kind of situation I thought of when I spoke a few days ago with South Euclid Councilwoman Ruth Gray. As chair the council’s safety committee she has become increasingly concerned over the growing involvement of her city’s youth in the county juvenile justice system. Perhaps because she is the grandmother of nine, or maybe it’s because she is a social worker, but she is unable to sit by and watch young lives get pushed off track by their own community.

Councilwoman Ruth Gray
Gray has become increasingly concerned over the past few years as her city grapples with the adjustments necessitated by transitioning communities. We are speaking here specifically about reaction formations as formerly all or mostly white communities experience a critical mass influx of African American immigrants.

The impact on a community is often felt first in the school system, where the mix of ethnicities skews more quickly towards minorities than does the general city population. The 2010 census puts South Euclid’s population at roughly 42% African American. Yet an informed estimate of the South Euclid-Lyndhurst school district puts its African American enrollment at more than 75%, even though Lyndhurst is more than 90% white.

This replicates a pattern occurring throughout our community to greater or lesser degree, in places like Euclid, Maple Heights, Garfield Heights, Richmond Heights, Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights.

Our schools, and therefore our children, principally our black children are placed in a laboratory where the challenges of society are being dealt with. The political, economic, social, and cultural forces have national and global origins that can and do easily overwhelm many local school districts.

These same forces tax local police departments as well. The result too often is that ordinary juvenile behavioral issues that once were handled on a personal, informal, case-by-case basis, are increasingly thrown into our county juvenile justice system.

This is the informed view of Case Western Reserve University visiting law professor Carmen Naso, who says that “we’ve become really, really good at throwing kids in jail. … It’s a disaster that we are taking more people into the system when we should be taking fewer.”

CWRU Law Professor Carmen Naso
Naso is no bleeding heart liberal college professor. He spent 30 years in the practice of law, the last seven of which were as the Supervising Attorney in county prosecutor Bill Mason’s office, where he trained a staff of young lawyers before transfer to prosecute adult felony cases. But lawyers are trained to evaluate evidence, and professors are inclined to study systems, and the evidence of how our juvenile justice system is not working is impossible to ignore.

Naso sees no greater incidence of juvenile delinquency these days than in the past. The difference is these same behaviors now are foisted upon a juvenile justice system that is ill equipped to handle them. He cites as one culprit the No Child Left Behind Act promulgated by former president George W. Bush.

Bush “created a new sub-class of people who would not be in the system, who are placed on track to fail by [the] Act, which allows schools to use the criminal justice system to deal with normal behavior issues rather than find solutions,” says Naso.

Councilwoman Gray would find herself in agreement. Her thrust is to find ways South Euclid can begin to develop and allocate resources to community youth that can help keep them from a meat-grinding juvenile justice system that continues to provide fodder for an ever-more expensive criminal justice system.

That’s why the program her public safety committee has put together tonight — Youth in Peril: A Community Response Public Forum — should be of interest, not just to South Euclid residents, but to citizens of all stripes across the county, including educators, legislators, public safety officials, parents, and taxpayers.