Mayor de Blasio’s post-Parkland student town hall on gun violence turned into a referendum on the city’s school safety agents and use of metal detectors — with teens on both ends of the ideological spectrum saying the mayor wasn’t listening.
“I think he disregarded the whole point of this meeting, which was to hear the students out, and I don’t think he did it to the full extent that it should’ve been,” said Ayobami Olabode, 16, a student at Scholars’ Academy in Queens.
De Blasio praised the movement for gun control that arose from the horrific school slaying in a well-to-do Florida suburb, but the students who spoke to him Thursday offered a different perspective on gun violence — the kind they might encounter on their walk to school, and leads to some being subjected to metal detectors.
While de Blasio noted metal detectors are used on a permanent basis in few schools, Ayobami told the mayor it seemed that those schools were home mainly to students of color. “Why is that?” he asked.
Mark Rampersant, the security director for the Education Department, said it was based on the need within the building.
“It’s not about color, absolutely nothing to do with color,” he said.
Ayobami’s fellow student at Scholars’ Academy, Olukemi Jemilugba, 16, was skeptical — noting her school didn’t have scanning, but a more diverse one across the street did.
“They are subjected to go through these dehumanizing things every single day,” she said. “It’s hard for me to sit here and for you to tell me it’s not about color.”
She added that she often felt school safety agents were there to watch her — not help her. That came after the majority of the students in the room did not raise their hands when asked if they would turn to school safety agents for help.
“What we’re trying to create is a world where when you say police officer, it means dialogue,” de Blasio said, touting his community policing initiatives. “That maybe is not being felt the way you would like to see it for young people.”
With students calling for mental health help and counselors instead of cops and scanning, the mayor said they had more work to do to help his wife Chirlane McCray’s mental health initiative, Thrive NYC, reach students. McCray told the crowd that, before the end of the day, she’d like to hear what kind of services they wanted in a school.
The mayor posed McCray’s question, and called on a student from Brooklyn’s Canarsie High School — who began speaking about a lack of trust between students and schools, and his own experience with metal detectors: “I felt criminalized,” he said, before calling for more counseling.
The mayor didn’t address the student’s concern about metal detectors, and instead turned again to McCray’s question. He asked the next several students to answer that question instead of posing their own.
That bothered Ayobami.
“He completely disregarded his question,” he said. “He didn’t answer it at all, because he wanted to hear something that he wanted to hear about the mental illness. So I think that was really messed up.”
Students with different opinions weren’t any happier with the mayor’s reception.
Joseph Silverstein, 18, a senior at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, thinks all schools should have metal detectors — which he said would lessen concerns about racial disparities and keep everyone safe from the kinds of shooting that happened in Parkland, a school that was not plagued with crime.
“I honestly thought it was biased in nature. I thought people with Republican points of views were not allowed to express themselves,” he said.
He noted that the town hall, held at a YMCA, had its own security.
“When we walk in to see the mayor, he had metal detectors, he had police officers,” Silverstein noted.
Morgan Hesse, a Stuyvesant High School student, said she still felt unsafe after the nearby terror attack on the West Side Highway on Halloween, and suggested school safety agents could speak to students in their classrooms.
“I think we should be doing this in every school,” de Blasio responded. “Let’s find a way to do it.”
But others raised deep concerns about their school safety agents — including a student at John Bowne High School in Flushing. After a student there was stabbed last year, they were subject to a week of scanning — and agents greeted them by saying, “Hello, John Bowne stabbers,” the student said.
“I think that ever since that day no students at John Bowne felt safe going to a school safety officer,” he said.
“That is entirely unacceptable,” the mayor said.
Chief of Community Affairs Nilda Irizarry Hofmann said she would visit the school.
“I realize that I have a lot of work to do here,” she said.