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Austin All-Boys School Teaches Students How to Interact with Police

Photos: Filipa Rodrigues, KUT Design: Andrew Weber, KUT
Gus Garcia YMLA held a panel discussion with students about how to interact with authority, including police officers. The panel included AISD Police Chief, Justice of the Peace, parents and teachers.

Principal Sterlin McGruder thinks it's his responsibility to teach more than reading and math to his middle school students at Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy. Throughout the first year at the all-boys school in Northeast Austin, McGruder has tried to instill a sense of respect in his students: respect for others and respect for themselves.

McGruder came to Austin ISD from a Dallas suburb, where he was principal at a single sex boys middle school with mostly poor black and Hispanic students. Gus Garcia YMLA is no different. Nearly all the students are African American or Hispanic and most qualify for free and reduced lunch. McGruder says he's always made a point to teach his students how to respect authority figures, including police officers.

But this year, the message was more timely.

The relationship between police and minority communities became a national issue after the deaths of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York at the hands of police officers.

Credit Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News
Tahira House, parent of two students at Gus Garcia YMLA parent in front of a poster of her son, Bryce, that hangs in the school's main hallway.

In January, the school hosted a panel of parents, teachers, AISD Police Chief Eric Mendez and Judge Yvonne Williams, Justice of the Peace for District 1, to discuss how to properly interact with authority. Many panel members say regardless of race, schools and parents across the district should have this conversation with students, but Chief Mendez says this is the first time he's been asked by an AISD school to serve on a panel on this specific issue.

As part of KUT's series called Gender Divide, we bring you this story:

  Quotes from the Gus Garcia YMLA Panel on interacting with authority:

"You can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride. Now what that means is, if it looks like you're going to be taken to jail, you're going to be taken to jail. But if the reason you're going to be taken to jail is not going to hold up in court, then it won't hold up in court. So, don't fight it. Move along, pay attention, and deal with the details afterward." -Judge Yvonne Williams, Justice of the Peace for District One

"One interaction from an officer with an individual can determine how that individual sees us for the rest of their life and if it's a very negative interaction they're always going to have a negative thought process about law enforcement. We try to make sure our interactions are positive." - Austin ISD Police Chief Eric Mendez

"The world only knows what you show them of you. They don't know your personal life, your personality and it's very important to always be respectful so you get that same respect back. If you show yourself to be a knucklehead, hardhead, your mouth is twisted up when you're talking to the police, they're going to handle you rough. Because that's what you're showing them." -Tahira House, Gus Garcia YMLA Parent

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