This is a teen-written article from our friends at L.A. Youth, a nonprofit organization that helps teens advocate for themselves through journalism, literacy and civic engagement.
By Maceo Bradley, 17, Animo Locke HS #3
One morning in December 2010 I was leaving for school and as soon as I took one step out the door, I realized I forgot the fundraising papers I needed to turn in that day for a college trip. I searched everywhere in the living room and my bedroom but I couldn’t find them. After 20 minutes I called my mom. She said she put them in a cabinet the night before. At this point I knew I would be about 20 minutes late to school. As someone who had been late four times (at most) in two-and-a-half years, I figured that I’d get a warning or at worst I’d get one day of detention.
As soon as I stepped into the main office at school a Los Angeles Police Department officer asked if I was late and I said yeah. He told me to have a seat. I was nervous. We’re used to having Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies on campus because they’re the school security. But seeing four LAPD officers made me think something was wrong at school.
Sitting there, I noticed other students were getting tickets but I didn’t know what for. I thought the police were ticketing students who were frequently late, so I assumed someone from my school would tell the cops that I didn’t belong in that group. One kid got put in handcuffs because he didn’t want to give his name. I got scared when I realized they were ticketing everyone. I had no idea how much this might cost. My mom once told me that when a traffic camera snaps a picture of a car running a red light the ticket costs like $400. I thought, “It’s gonna be on my record. I’m gonna be a juvenile delinquent.”
When it was my turn the officer asked me how old I was and why I was late. I told him I was 15 and I explained why I was late and that he could call my mom to verify that. He wrote me a ticket with a court date at the bottom. I had no idea why I was getting a ticket for being late. It seemed ridiculous.
When I got to first period my teacher, Ms. Deniz, asked me why I was late. When she saw the ticket in my hand she asked, “You too?” She told me that a few students that day and a few others in the days before had gotten tickets, too.
At lunch I called my mom and told her that I got a ticket. I was scared of her reaction. I’d never done anything bad or gotten in trouble with the cops. “We’ll talk later,” she replied. She did not sound happy. I struggled all day concentrating in my classes.
My mom got home around 4 and I showed her the ticket and explained how I got it in the main office. Her tone changed from anger to worry. I told her that I had heard from other students that this could cost $250. That’s a lot of money for being late. She gave me a hug. I was relieved and told myself I needed to wake up earlier to make sure this never happened again. The next day I woke up 20 minutes earlier and was on time.
A lot of us had gotten tickets
That day I told the other members of Watts Youth Voices, a group at my school that teaches students how to have their voices heard in the community, about the ticket. More than half of the members said that they had gotten stopped by the cops or gotten a ticket on their way to school.
Our teacher, Ms. Coffey, told us that a lot of students had gotten tickets for truancy, which means ditching school. We were pissed off because if students are getting tickets in the main office, we’re not truant, we’re just late. If I had gotten detention I would have been OK with that because I was late, but I wasn’t ditching so I shouldn’t have gotten a ticket.
During that meeting we Googled “truancy tickets and laws.” There was already a local group called the Labor/Community Strategy Center trying to get cops to stop writing truancy tickets. We called them and they told us about their campaign and offered to come to our school to give us more information.
Ashley and Lissett from the Strategy Center met with us the next week and told us that truancy tickets were intended to increase attendance by deterring kids from skipping school. I didn’t think ditching was a problem at my school, Locke #3. There are two or three students absent from most of my classes every day, so why were they writing tickets? Two days after I got my ticket I woke up a little late and I didn’t even bother going to school because I didn’t want to get another. So much for a ticket improving school attendance.
Ashley and Lissett showed us facts that proved how unfair this truancy ticketing is. City and school police issued more than 47,000 tickets from 2004 to 2009 and 88 percent of them went to African Americans and Latinos, who are only 74 percent of district students, according to data compiled by activists through public records requests. This wasn’t that surprising to me. We have three law enforcement agencies (Sheriff’s Department, LAUSD police and LAPD) on or around campus every day. Growing up in this area, there’s a natural distrust of the police so a lot of students don’t like having them at our school every day. People joke around saying our school resembles a prison.
When cops give us tickets for being late it creates a more tense relationship with the students. After getting my ticket I felt uneasy around cops and like I could get ticketed for anything at any moment. This was a weird feeling for me to have about cops. My dad was a probation officer so I grew up understanding they have a job to do.
After learning so much from the Strategy Center, we decided that Watts Youth Voices should do presentations for our classmates. Usually when we announce meetings most people don’t even pay attention. But this time they were asking questions. When we told them their rights they actually had questions like: Could they go to court with an older sibling instead of a parent? No, we told them that you must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. What happens if I don’t pay the ticket? You cannot get a driver’s license. I felt good that I was helping my classmates, but I wished I could help do something to get the truancy ticket law changed.
Photo by Yesenia Reyes, 17, Animo Locke HS #1
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