Change of pace, this week. Too many current events weighing on my mind to come up with a fun comics column.
No, it’s not about the presidential election, don’t panic. It’s even sort of comics-related.
Wednesday I got a call from Nick, my boss at Aki Middle School. “Don’t come in. We’re canceling the rest of the week.”
“Canceling?” I was a bit befuddled by this. It’s a latchkey-kid after-school program; we cancel and there’s a bunch of kids loose on the street all afternoon with nowhere to go. So this is a big deal. “What for?”
“Safety issue. There’s been a threat of gang violence.”
I made a noise like Buh-wha?
“Over the shooting, last week,” Nick said patiently. “So, we’re sending everyone home early this week. Stay home.”
I had no idea what the hell he was talking about, so when I got home I looked it up. Apparently, there was a shooting at Garfield High, just down the street, earlier in the week.
From the Seattle Times:
A 16-year-old boy shot to death near Garfield High School Friday night was the fifth teenager killed in Seattle this year, a trend that had already prompted Mayor Greg Nickels to propose a new $9 million initiative to prevent youth violence.
Police would not confirm that Friday’s killing was gang-related, although the department’s gang unit is investigating the crime.
Several people who visited the crime scene Saturday and who said they knew the victim claimed the shooting had to do with gang rivalries.
“Whatever it is classified as, it is definitely a tragedy,” said police spokeswoman Renee Witt.
A 15-year-old boy also was shot and wounded in the Friday incident, which occurred behind Garfield High School on 25th Avenue near East Jefferson Street in the Central District. The wounded boy made it to the Garfield Teen Life Center after being shot in the torso, according to police. He is in stable condition at Harborview Medical Center but is not cooperating with police.
Check out the last sentence. This idiot punk kid is in the hospital over this crap but isn’t cooperating with police.
It’s possible he’s scared of retribution if he talks. But I’m down in that neighborhood every week and I see these kids all the time. From my observations of the way this plays out at school and on the streets, it’s far, far more likely that he is subscribing to whatever bullshit code has been indoctrinated into him, that it’s not cool to rat out your brothers.
The sheer dumbass stupidity of this is maddening. Here’s why.
When I took the job two years ago to teach a new cartooning class at Aki there were all kinds of people who tried to warn me off it. Bad neighborhood, racial tension, dangerous job, etc. Anyone would think I was signing up to be the new White Shadow the way they carried on.
I told them they were being ridiculous and I believed it. I still believe it. Comics nerds are comics nerds and nerdity always trumps skin color.
And that’s been the case with my kids at Aki. They are geeks to their toes. Whether it’s Carlos’ fierce determination to learn everything he can about the history of the Marvel Universe or Edwin’s naked lust whenever he sees a discount longbox; whatever it might be, my point is that you know after spending two minutes in their company that they are Our People. Race doesn’t enter into it at all.
Except for one thing. There is a difference. You know what it is?
The Aki cartooning students, are, without exception, incredibly grateful that the program exists. Much more so than any other class I’ve had in fourteen years. Every Monday and Wednesday, they are thrilled to be there. They understand what a special thing it is they are doing, maybe because there aren’t that many arts programs in their end of town, and it’s been an extraordinary thing for me to watch.
This year, I was asked to add a special-ed student who’d been having a hard time and it was like night and day from the last time I was asked to try that. They make it a point to include Marcus, they show him stuff, they share supplies. Apart from the single talk I gave them before Marcus’ first day, this is pretty much without me intervening. (I did try to warn them they’d have to be patient, and mentioned the disaster I’d had at Denny with Desiree, but Carlos just snorted and said, “We won’t be like those stuck-up bitches, Mr. Hatcher.”)
They were furious at getting sent home over this gang threat. Furious.
Let’s put it this way– these kids love comics so much they wanted to ignore a police evacuation order and say screw the risk and stay. Because it was comics day.
So far efforts from school officials and police to try and get this under control are being continually frustrated by some low-rent code of omerta.
That’s what I’m angry about. These gang punks, who doubtless think of themselves as Robin Hood figures out sticking it to the Man, aren’t sticking it to the Man at all. They’re sticking it to my students and the other kids in the afterschool arts program, kids their own age. They’re sticking it to guys like my boss Nick who’s down there every day trying to make their lives better, working fourteen-hour days split between school and the mission youth center, for a paycheck that I assure you is not nearly what it ought to be.
My kids, who are just getting a taste of how the arts can lift you up and out of whatever shitty situation you might be in, might have that taken away from them. Because of these knuckle-dragging fucks that every adult authority figure in the neighborhood has been trying to help.
These are the guys that the perforated hospital case is protecting. The Neanderthals fucking over my kids.
I asked Nick about what we were going to do and he told me they’d know more on Monday. The sense I’m getting is if the cops can’t wrap this up somehow, then the whole program might shut down because the school’s worried we can’t keep kids safe. I have to admit that I can’t argue with that, on a strictly practical level. If we’re at school and suddenly there’s a gun battle because some thirteen-year-old wannabe thug decides he wants to strike a blow for the primacy of his brothers’ turf claim, me and my roomful of nerds would be pretty useless.
But my kids want to chance it and I think I do too. I think the odds favor us. I think overall they’re safer at school with me than at home or roaming around, waiting for their parents to get home from work.
Apart from all that….
Maybe it just comes from reading too many Captain America stories, but damn it, at some point you have to just commit to doing what you said you were going to do, and I told my kids last spring that Cartooning was at Aki as long as they’d have me. They all showed up again in September based on that promise. The idea that I might have to break it because of some asshole gang kids and a nervous school administration just makes me sick inside.
We might be able to put something together outside of school if we had to, but then there’s funding issues and a whole lot of other stuff. I would do it for nothing as long as I could afford it if I was forced to, but it’s not just me. Supplies cost money. Publishing costs money. And truthfully, if I could bankroll it all myself I’d have done it that way in the first place.
The after-school programs need the support of the school to make this work right. We have the teachers’ support, but we may not have the administration’s or the parents’, and the cops would just as soon we all went home and stayed there.
So that was my week. Not a lot of fun thoughts about comics in there. Sorry.
See you next week, hopefully with better news. According to Nick we’re supposed to be back on Monday. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
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