Tuesday, September 11, 2007

HISD police created 'Ghetto Handbook': 'Blue wall of silence' nearly covered it up

Here's an item I missed in the clips when it came out a couple of weeks ago: An unfortunate glimpse inside the mindset of certain Houston ISD campus police officers. Reported AP on 8/31:
A school district suspended a police officer as it investigates his distribution of a "Ghetto Handbook" and the three-month lapse before top district officials were informed of it.

The eight-page booklet, subtitled "Wucha dun did now?", was handed out to about 15 Houston Independent School District police officers at a May meeting, district spokesman Terry Abbott said. Officials declined to identify the officer who handed them out, but said he had been ordered to attend diversity training.

A supervisor immediately collected the booklets, Abbott said, but district officials said they didn't learn about the incident until someone complained to the district's Equal Employment Opportunity Office in mid-August.

"This publication was completely reprehensible and HISD condemns it in the strongest possible terms," Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra said in a written statement Thursday.

He said he has "mounted a very aggressive investigation."

District Police Chief Charles Wiley had no comment, Abbott said.

The booklet billed itself as a guide to Ebonics, teaching the reader to speak "as if you just came out of the hood." It included definitions such as "foty: a 40-ounce bottle of beer"; "aks: to ask a question"; and "hoodrat: scummy girl."

The booklet names six district officers "and the entire day shift patrol" as contributors. Abbott said a preliminary investigation has cleared those officers of involvement.

Last year, almost 30 percent of the district's 202,000 students were black and almost 60 percent were Hispanic.

So, six officers were named as authors but only one was suspended? Does anyone think their co-worker would have included their names as authors without their foreknowledge? And does the attribution to "the entire day shift" mean that racist jokes and attitudes are common among HISD police?

One hesitates to attribute racist attitudes by an individual to an entire department, but this much can certainly be said: At least six officers allegedly participated and possibly the entire day shift knew. They clearly believed their fellow officers would think their Ebonics guide was funny, to the extent that they distributed it at an official meeting. The supervisor who removed the materials did not report the event up the ladder. Though a joke, the incident raises troubling questions about field officers' attitudes and management competence, as noted at Blackprof, especially since
These officers are charged to serve and protect a school district that is nearly 90% Black and Brown. Yet such a glaring case of institutional racism barely makes national news and as far as I know, no officers were fired or disciplined beyond this singular suspension. In a fair and balanced world the entire HISD would be investigated so that we might root out any residual racist behavior.
At a minimum, to me, the delay before the supervisor reported the incident indicates that he and many HISD police tolerate such attitudes in the ranks and consider them relatively harmless. It sounds like the case may evidence a wider cultural cancer among HISD police, not just an isolated, "insensitive" officer.

Tolerating widespread disdain for minority youth they're charged to protect will inevitably infect how HISD police interact with students in subtle and not so subtle ways, helping discredit law enforcement with minority students at an early age. From the AP story it sounds like HISD hasn't yet come to grips with how harmful that could be.

In other Harris County youth news, the Commissioners Court extended the curfew for kids under 17 from midnight till 6 a.m. in Harris County - it does not apply in Houston proper. This has turned into a steady source of revenue for the county, generating 2,500 tickets in the last three years. Related: Early reports are the nearly everyone at schools in Harris County the next day had read the commissioners court minutes and were all scared out of their pants. Man, I'm glad they did that! Now Harris County parents KNOW they don't have to worry about their teenagers being out late - after all, there's a law! (/sarcasm) Seriously, I hate this crap: Infantilize kids and they'll inevitably live up to those expectations. Kids' curfews should be set by parents, not the government. The government should ban bad conduct and punish when they misbehave, not just because they left the house after Saturday Night Live was over.


Anonymous said...

And, of course, you don't mind stirring it up. Nothing racist about the booklet at all. Quit making trouble, grits.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Nothing racist about mocking jokes about "ebonics," huh? Then perhaps HISD should stamp it with their logo and hand out copies in parking lots in 5th Ward on Sunday after church. Let's see if everyone there agrees with you! You can subtitle it, "What HISD police think of your kids." I double-dog dare you. Wanna guess the reaction?

OTOH, HISD admin disagreed with your assessment, anon, which is why they punished the guy. best,

Anonymous said...

Anyone who speaks this so-called ebonics is too lazy to learn proper English. They need to be made fun of. They need to be taken to task. Same goes for white kids who talk this trash. Who cares what a bunch of overpaid pols at HISD think. What else are they going to say? Why aren't these parents taking their reposibilities, seriously. Or, is it your view they're only expressing themselves against authority by talking this way?

So, they're going to beat me down if I pass out these booklets at their church. Are you saying blacks are violent?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No, I'm saying they'd disagree with you that mockery of their children by police officers who joked among themselves that their kids all spoke "ebonics" wasn't racist.

Anonymous said...

I believe that that class is needed, why send an officer to culture diversity training when that already mandated by TCLEOSE. There are many officers that don't know the 'slang' termology that used by kids today (black, white, and hispanic). Those are could be at risk if they don't know what the kids are saying. I wonder when an officer who doesn't speak english talk to a Hispanic that only speaks Spanish. There a language barrier, and in high risk situations that could be life or death for an officer, and civilians.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't have a problem with a professional compilation of slang terms by a PD for purposes of training. But when someone who's not a trainer distributes an ill-humored, photocopied jab at "Ebonics" to co-workers without a supervisor's approval, that's a racial taunt.

Anonymous said...


It may well have been a racial taunt but this story has received major play in the local media and thus far nothing substantive has been produced to prove that.

More likely, it is the sort of subtle racism that we deny daily. I doubt the officers involved view it as racist. This is the language they hear daily - it may have been an honest attempt to understand the people they work with.

Read the wikipedia entry for a quick primer - the term "ebonics" didn't come from the Klan.

We laugh at this stuff because we don't know what else to do. This is a "joke" whether it was intentional racism or not. And the "joke" is on all of us that have allowed this to happen.

Why have we allowed liberal thought to so corrupt a culture that "ebonics" is an accepted form of communication?

Far more worthy of your attention is the travesty of injustice that is happening as we speak in Jena, LA to six young black males simply because they are black. That is overt racism at its ugliest.


Anonymous said...

Grits you act like only black people speak ebonics your wrong.White folks stay in the 5th Ward,6th Ward,Sunnyside,Acres Homes etc.How can it racist if all walks of life speak it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

People from all walks of life speak "slang." Calling slang "ebonics" falsely makes it a racially specific reference when, as you point out, slang terms are used by everyone.

"Ebonics" as a label has a lot of culture-war baggage - it was a controversial linguistic theory that some on the right demagogued against for a while to claim that liberals support race-based corruption of the language. At this point it's a reductionist debate. These cops have never read any linguistic theory - to them "Ebonics" is just a euphemism for "how black people talk," which is what makes it a stereotype and a racial taunt.

RoAN, I certainly agree the Jena story ranks as a more important case - I try to restrict Grits to Texas topics (on the assumption no one else will help us so we better help ourselves), or I'd have devoted more coverage to it. Still, attitudes toward customers matter in public service just like in business, and you can't adequately serve customers you don't respect. That's why those beneath the surface attitudes are important - it's kids who bear the brunt of their disdain.

Maybe if ISD cops weren't often just glorified security guards who can't get real police jobs, I might have more sympathy when some corn-pone idiot bares his ass like this, and be less likely to think it indicates wider problems. I'll bet you the response would have been more severe at HPD, which is a lot more professional. best to all,

Anonymous said...

Hey man, they eat grits in LA too!

I know what you mean about forums and such. And agree. I didn't mean to slam you, just trying to point out that, in the annals of racism, this one is pretty lame, if it is racist at all.


Anonymous said...

ISD can't get a real police job.Like you have one.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Touche', you got me, I'm not a cop. But the big departments are more professional than ISDs, park police, or some of the other peripheral agencies, nonetheless.

JT Barrie said...

What about the TV ads for text messaging rates? Isn't that poking fun of geeks and nerds and white teens who have the bucks to text during school hours to classmates? That's even worse because it subtly stigmatizes those of us who are not with it with all this tech stuff.

Anonymous said...

You dont know the truth about the situation.. just wait! The book was a result of racism.

Anonymous said...

You are well versed and make excellent points in your argument. My hat's off to you. Impressive. HISD can stuff it. This is an embarrassment to other boys in blue and is a stigma that we all now have to overcome. Like that's all we needed was one more barrier to climb when we are dealing with an uncooperative public already.