Two officials at Southern California Counseling Center endorse his actions
At the last Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education meeting, a letter from Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr. and a memo from SMPD Sergeant Joaquin Vega were read into the record that stated that School Board member Oscar de la Torre had acted improperly in bringing two alleged gang members onto the Santa Monica High School campus five days after a scuffle between some students had led to a campus lockdown.
The Santa Monica Mirror tried repeatedly to reach de le Torre in order to report his response to the allegations. He didn’t return phone calls, but sent the following email, which arrived at Mirror offices at 12:10 a.m. Wednesday, about an hour after last week’s issue had been locked and sent to the printer.
Oscar de la Torre’s statement
Every human being has etched in his personality the indelible stamp of the Creator. –Martin Luther King Jr.
There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation that has been put out in the media regarding a mediation session that was going to take place at Santa Monica High School on Wednesday April 20th. I believe it is important to provide accurate information regarding my role in this incident. To truly end violence we must begin with establishing mutual respect and not engage in the type of divisive attack that has prompted me to write this letter. As a lifelong resident of Santa Monica, former student body president of Samohi (1989-90), former counselor at Samohi (1998-00), founder/director of the Pico Youth & Family Center which serves at-risk youth and current member of the School Board I have a unique perspective that I hope can inspire a new vision for peace, unity, academic excellence and social justice at Santa Monica High.
On April 15, 2005 Santa Monica High experienced a few fights that were misconstrued as “race riots” and exaggerated in the press. I was made aware that violence occurred on campus after the school had been placed on “lockdown.” I was not on campus when the violence occurred but offered my support to the school and administration on various occasions and even months before tensions escalated on campus.
On Monday, April 18, 2005 I was called on by Superintendent John Deasy to mediate tensions between students at Santa Monica High. I mediated tensions that resulted from Friday’s violence between two students and I also met with several Latino and African American student leaders to brainstorm ideas to promote unity on campus. One house principal told me that my presence was needed and welcomed the support from the community on campus. I did not communicate with Dr. Deasy or Samohi’s administration after Monday and this lapse in communication and coordination contributed to a confrontation between police and I that SMPD Chief James T. Butts exploited for political reasons.
On Wednesday, April 20, 2005 I went on campus to continue the mediation process and I was accompanied by two individuals who are successful business pioneers in the hip hop industry. We made sure to check-in and sign-in at the front gate. Both of the peace mediators in question are committed to uniting youth of all ethnicities. One of these individuals made mistakes in his past, paid his dues to society, and is committed to giving back positively to his community. Their story of struggle, transformation and triumph in the face of poverty and marginalization is exactly what our youth facing similar social dynamics need to hear.
From my many years of working to address youth violence in the community I understand that the youth directly involved in the violence will listen more to people who they can connect with. In fact, this approach was called for by experts, parents and youth at the first “community workshop on gang violence” that was sponsored by the City of Santa Monica and Senator Sheila Kuehl on February 26, 2005. Our plan on Wednesday was to speak to youth of all backgrounds about the need for peace and reconciliation. In our own lives hip hop culture has taught us to cross the racial divide that is so prevalent in almost every aspect of society.
Unfortunately, because of miscommunication and negative stereotypes we were unable to continue the mediation process. The manner in which the police approached us caused a scene and a group of African American students began to gather around to see what was happening. I spoke to the youth in the group, many who I have relationships with, and suggested that they disperse to avoid any further conflict with the police.
The students were respectful and cooperative. The police report stated that my behavior could have resulted in a “riot” from black students. This statement is more than an exaggeration; it indicates how the person who wrote the police report perceives our children. Although police can deter a fight between students they are not trained to resolve intercultural conflict. I acknowledge and respect the role of law enforcement on Samohi’s campus but a long-term solution to violence requires much more than deterrence.
Youth violence is a symptom of a larger crisis that has its root in social and economic inequality. To build peace we must have a space at the table for every individual in our community that is committed to spreading the message of unity and non-violence. As a former alumnus of Samohi I care deeply about our students and the schools that I was elected to protect. I have made a lifetime commitment to ending youth violence and I look forward to working collaboratively with school administrators, community leaders, students, parents and the police to sustain the peace and promote unity in our community.
Oscar de la Torre,
School Board Member
Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District
Statements from Southern California Counseling Center Officials
To whom it may concern,
I am submitting this letter on behalf of Oscar de La Torre and his efforts to bring peace to a culturally diverse community. First I must state this up front. Oscar, although not a gang member, is very knowledgeable about the gang culture and the many facets involved in that culture. He is also versed on many issues effecting disenfranchised populations.
I am a counselor, trainer and staff member at the Southern California Counseling Center. I am also the Founder and Director of CleanSlate Inc., a gang violence recovery, rage resolution and tattoo removal program. We are part of a collaborative that includes Children’s Institute Inc., CleanSlate Inc., Southern California Counseling Center, Bresee Foundation, Girl’s in Gangs Inc., Casey Family Foundation and the Pico Youth Center. Oscar has been a vital part of the educational portion of this collaborative. We have anticipated this tension building in our communities for decades now. Educating our youth is what is necessary.
I train and prepare retired, former gang members to do the work of educating and informing youth about the reality of “divide and conquer strategies.” There is a theory that only those who have been in the culture can impact the culture and effect change. I have been training gang members, clergy, psychotherapists, principals, probation officers and law enforcement in techniques of impacting the violence that is so much a part of the gang culture and our society as a whole. I do this with this diverse group of community representatives.
I know that Oscar’s intention was to connect and inform. He has a passion about peace and the uplifting of oppressed populations. If we can ask those who have lived realities in this culture to open the doors of real dialogue, why do you resist? Gang members are first people. They were children who for some reason through unresolved issues of hurt, violation, abuse, neglected or poverty have chosen gangs as a way to empower themselves. The result is rage and violence. For decades gang members have been seen as only the “problem” – could it be that they are part of the solution?
This is not a new concept. In the 80s & 90s it was the Youth Gang Services Today it is L.A. Bridges & L.A. Bridges II. We must provide leadership and understanding for our youth. If it comes in the form of “gang members” who can send a message of peace among our people of color, how can that not be embraced and cultivated? The ideas of punishment and incarceration of our youth has not been effective. We are witnessing it in the reorganization of California Youth Authority and the County Probation Department. I hope that each participant in the community will look at what hasn’t worked and open their minds to new and innovative approaches to the restoration of peaceful communities. I know Oscar de La Torre is always looking for ways to bring a new understanding to a difficult situation.
Marianne Diaz, Director of Outreach
Southern California Counseling Center
Executive Director, CleanSlate Inc.
To Whom It May Concern:
It has come to my attention that a colleague of mine, Oscar de La Torre, is coming under some scrutiny for his work with the students at Santa Monica High School. Mr. de La Torre is involved with a collaborative of services which includes the Southern California Counseling Center. He has demonstrated commitment and creativity in working with the youth and families impacted by gang life. He comes from a community strongly impacted by gangs and knows gang culture.
Mr. de La Torre’s commitment to peace and nonviolence along with his history gives him insight, awareness, and focus that is rare in community work. His affiliation with the work of the Children’s Institute Collaborative of which the Southern California Counseling Center is a part is something we highly value.
I hope my thoughts can be of some value in this situation.
Margery Shelton, L.C.S.W., B.C.D.
Clinical DirectorSouthern California Counseling Center