Black vs. Brown melee more about dealing with conflict than racial hatred
As if to say “Don’t Tread on Me” students at San Bernardino’s Cajon High School went on the offense this week against claims that their school is a hot bed of racial tension.
This followed a widely publicized clash between black and Latino students Friday that occurred during lunchtime and continued after school.
“This was not about black vs. brown hatred or unrest. There were no guns and knives. There was no wall of blacks and Latino’s fighting despite what someone told the newspaper,” insisted ninth grader Kaila Fernandez.
Officials confirmed there was one incident during lunchtime, where one student was struck.
The unrest continued after school when 45 to 50 black and Latino students squared off, said Linda Bardere, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino City Unified School District.
No injuries were reported.
Officials say while the fight broke down along racial lines, six students were believed to be responsible for instigating it.
A student, who was not identified, was arrested on suspicion of civil disobedience. The student was cited and released to a guardian, authorities said.
After school Tuesday students and leaders of two youth and community outreach groups gathered in front of the school to talk about the incident and to dispel rumors about racial tension.
“You had a half a dozen students involved in a disagreement. They happened to be black and Latino. There was a heated argument that spiraled into a fight.
Ninety-nine percent of those who got involved were cheerleaders and bystanders,” said Fernandez. “Fighting during lunch is not that unusual. People fight one minute than play sports together the next.”
“It's not as big a deal as people think it is,” said Symone Maddox who is African American. “People overreact. It’s human. It’s not fair to give the school a black eye over this incident.”
“Sure there’s tension between the races but it’s more about dealing with real or perceived conflict than racial unrest,” added Roberto (last name withheld) a Latino student whose stepfather is black. “It’s unfair to characterize this incident as racial. Everybody has conflicts.”
Cajon is a sports powerhouse and one of the county’s high-performing high schools serving 2,868 students. The school has a diverse make-up, with Hispanics being the largest group making up forty-seven percent of students.
“We throw signs and we argue over cultural differences sometimes but when we get on the court we’re cool. It’s all about winning for Cajon,” said a Latino student who plays on the school’s basketball team.
“Yea there’s some tension between the races but it’s driven mostly by misinterpretation not hatred,” said Renee Rubio.
“I don’t see this as racially driven,” said school security officer Gary Carlson. “Cajon is actually one of the calmest campuses in the district. Most of these students are good kids.”
Carson was part of a beefed up security presence on and around campus this week. He called the Friday incident unfortunate but not surprising.
“Its finals time and everybody is under stress. When you mix over two thousand kids in one place you’re bound to have some disagreements. Sometimes those disagreements get out of hand,” he said. “This a very critical time in these kids growth and development.”
Conflicts are incredibly normal. “You probably fight with your siblings, parents or friends,” said Terrance Stone, president and CEO of Young Visionaries.
“Unfortunately, people often end up throwing a punch and hurting each other even when they don’t understand why they are fighting,” said Ryan C. Ulibarri, executive director of Project-Life Impact.
Leaders from the two nonprofit community organizations serving Inland youth were on campus Tuesday talking with students and sharing their own experiences.
“Do you rap?” Stone asked a group of black and Latino students.
“Yea….what you got,” responded a student.
Stone a former gang-member who turned his life around responded, “I’m working on a new recording studio project. I’m looking for talent. There are many ways to vent your frustrations. You don’t have to resort to violence you know.”
Stone was in gangs for 15 years. He spent 10 years locked up.
“My brother went to prison at age 16 – released at 33. My little brother is in San Quentin. I’ve attended over 100 funerals. I don’t want to see you locked up or laying in a casket over manageable conflict.”
“For me, it’s more about the lack of respect,” said Ryan Harvey, a junior and football player at the school. “If you come at me disrespectful I’m gonna disrespect you back. If I punch you, it doesn’t mean I hate you. It’s just my way of saying don’t disrespect me.”
“You are not alone. Everybody experiences conflict,” Ulibarri told the students. “The key is learning to effectively manage that conflict.” Ulibarri is the son of Willie Ulibarri a prominent minister and founder of Project- Life Impact.
“We are in a unique position to help you control your responses to perceived conflict – we dress like you - we speak your language. Like you, we’ve experienced anger. We’re not afraid to get down and dirty with you,” said Ulibarri a former Rialto Unified School District resource teacher.
“I think we do a disservice when we rush to label disagreements between ethnic groups as racially motivated. Particularly when we don’t have all the facts,” said Stone.
“Sometimes conflict is driven by loneliness, hurt and a lack of love. We all need love, compassion and respect no matter if you’re from different cultures and social economic backgrounds – Latino, black, white or Native.”
“This is a classic example of mostly good students learning on the job - about conflict and the skills and wisdom they need to manage it in order to succeed in today’s fast-paced, multitasking world,” said Ulibarri.
“No mistakes, no experience, no experience no wisdom,” he concluded.
District officials have already met with the youth groups to form community partnerships.
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