Mark Sanchez

A real plan for safety in the Mission


OPINION When I heard the news that Jorge Hurtado was shot and killed in the Mission District, I was doubly stunned. Not only was the 18-year-old my neighbor, he was shot on the same corner where Erick Balderas was killed a year ago.

Eleven years ago, Erick was a student in the fourth grade class I taught at Paul Revere Elementary in Bernal Heights. In fact, three of my former students have been murdered in the city in the last two years. None were gang members — and none of their attackers have been caught.

Violent crime in the Mission is on a huge upswing; the homicide rate is on track to double what it was a year ago. In just a few weeks there have been six killings in the Mission. It’s a tragedy that affects everyone: kids, parents, teachers, business leaders — the entire community.

That community has begun to take matters into its own hands after receiving no commitments from the Mayor’s Office. It’s going to take two things to overcome violence in the community: community policing to better prevent and solve crimes, and engagement around social problems that promote violence.

I am glad that Capt. Stephen Tacchini of the Mission Police Station will receive more reinforcements in response to these recent shootings. But it’s not enough. Beat cops get to know the people in the neighborhood, and vice versa. But it has to be done the right way: the officers have to be trained appropriately so that police and people in the community can feel comfortable interacting with one another. Especially in a neighborhood like the Mission, cultural competency training is critical.

In Chicago, the city creates incentives for police to live in the communities they patrol. We’re exploring new housing options for teachers in the school district, and we should expand the discussion to include police officers as critical members of the community.

We don’t need to go as far as Chicago, though, to find ideas that work: in District 5, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has pushed for foot patrols (the supervisors overrode a mayoral veto last year to make it happen). He has also gathered everyone around the same table — nonprofits, police brass, community leaders, city agency heads, small business owners — and these stakeholders have collectively worked on the problems. Because of these strategies, District 5 has seen a huge reduction in violence.

We also have to make sure that the organizations working with youth are engaged with one another, not competing for resources at the expense of getting the job done. There is $12 million available citywide for violence prevention, much of it spent in the Mission. But we’re not seeing results. Duplication of services, as well as filtering out the really troubled youth who are most at-risk, have diminished the impact of our CBO’s hard work.

I’ve already proposed that a Beacon Program be opened at O’Connell High School, which is near the heart of the violence. It would give kids a safe place to drop in as late as 2 a.m., where they could be referred to counseling services, if necessary.

Candlelight vigils are one way to help a community mourn their loss and begin to heal. But we won’t stop this endless cycle with vigils alone. Prevention needs to be our unified goal. *

Mark Sanchez is the president of the San Francisco Board of Education and a resident of the Mission District.

JROTC is not a choice


OPINION To hear proponents of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) talk, it’s a matter of personal choice for 14- and 15-year-olds to sign up for the Pentagon’s military recruitment program, which is being phased out of San Francisco’s public schools June 2009. The San Francisco Board of Education also recently voted to remove physical education credit from the program this school year. It had to: the retired military officers who teach the course don’t meet the educational standards of state law, and the course doesn’t meet state physical education standards.

Supporters of JROTC are taking the issue to the November ballot. Their initiative, albeit non-binding, would put San Franciscans on record as in support of the military program.

As Democratic clubs and other political organizations begin their endorsement process, progressives need to understand the importance of defeating this initiative. It’s not a harmless measure. If it passes, the new school board can use it to reinstate JROTC. If it loses, it’s less likely the board will change its course. Thankfully, last week the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) voted overwhelmingly not to endorse the measure.

JROTC is not summer camp or a harmless after-school activity. It is one more way the military finds bodies for its illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Denisha Williams can tell you that. The African American high school senior in Philadelphia told the City Paper that she left JROTC and opted out of the military having her contact info. It hasn’t made any difference: “I have received phone calls, e-mail, three letters and a 15-minute videotape. I even received a phone call from a female recruiter asking if I was still interested in the Navy. I told her I wasn’t and hung up. A week later I received another letter and the tape.”

Capt. Daniel R. Gager, commander of the US Army recruiting station in south Philadelphia, said he and other recruiters were ordered by the US Recruiting Command to put more time and energy into recruiting high school upperclassmen such as Williams.

In San Francisco, at least 15 percent of the cadets have been placed in the program without their consent. It seems the military will do whatever it takes to get in front of our youngsters in our public schools.

Pressuring kids to join the military is wrong. International law says kids under 18 should not be recruited at all, and the ACLU agrees (see Recruiters in every high school and at every mall in this country break that law every day.

Nationally about 40 percent of JROTC kids end up in the military. In San Francisco, proponents claim only 2 percent go on to military careers. They are wrong. According to the school district, no tracking of JROTC students is done.

Please work to defeat Proposition V, the pro-JROTC initiative.

Mark Sanchez and Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Mark Sanchez is President of the San Francisco Board of Education and an eighth grade science teacher. Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical queer activist and writer whose regular columns appear at

The case against the JROTC


OPINION Make no bones about it: the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) is a program of the US Department of Defense. Its purpose is clear: to recruit high school students into the military. Two years ago, 59 percent of San Franciscans demonstrated their disapproval of that sort of recruiting by supporting Proposition I. It’s time for the Board of Education to follow the wishes of those voters and phase out the JROTC in favor of a nonmilitary program.
On Aug. 22, it’s very likely that the San Francisco school board will do just that. Before the board is a proposal to not only ease out the JROTC but also form a blue-ribbon panel to find an alternative.
It’s not a new idea. In the mid-1990s, a similar board proposal failed by a 4–3 vote. This time the vote will probably be reversed. Phasing out the JROTC in San Francisco should be a breeze. Two years ago, a measure to put the city on record as wanting to bring the troops home from Iraq passed by 64 percent. Since Sept. 11, hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans have protested the wars in the Middle East. There’s no other city in this country with so much antiwar activity. So what’s the problem?
It’s the kids. The JROTC has successfully organized scores of young people (mostly white and Asian) to attend school board meetings to testify about the benefits of the program. A few LGBT kids have said that the local chapter of the JROTC does not discriminate, which JROTC officials confirm. What they don’t talk about is the fact that a queer kid can’t be out (or found out) in the armed forces. Since 1994, when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was first implemented, more than 11,182 queers have received the boot. There are also beatings and harassment to contend with in the military if you’re suspected of being queer. It’s not a pretty picture.
The JROTC doesn’t tell kids that a lot of what the recruiters promise is a lie — the kids might not get the educational benefits and job training promised in all the promotional materials. As Z Magazine reported (August 2005), 57 percent of military personnel receive absolutely no educational benefits. What’s more, only 12 percent of men and 6 percent of women who have served in the military ever use job skills obtained from their service. As Lucinda Marshall noted in an Aug. 24, 2005, article on ZNet, “According to the Veterans Administration, veterans earn less, make up 1/3 of homeless men and 20% of the nation’s prison population.” Be all that you can be?
Education was never the point of the military, of course. As former secretary of defense Dick Cheney once said, “The reason to have a military is to be prepared to fight and win wars…. It’s not a social welfare agency, it’s not a jobs program.”
Let’s not sell our youth short. Or make them fodder for oil wars. Or subject them to antiqueer discrimination and hate crimes. Let’s give them all the skills they need to make their lives the best they can be. We can do that without the military. SFBG
Tom Ammiano, Mark Sanchez, and Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Tom Ammiano is a queer former school board president and current supervisor of District 9. Mark Sanchez, the only queer member of the current San Francisco Board of Education, authored the current anti-JROTC resolution. Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a queer antiwar activist who was recently honored by the American Friends Service Committee.