Bad behavior doesn’t build good relationships

That racial tensions exist at Everett High School, and elsewhere in Snohomish County, is a regrettable fact. An increasingly diverse student body – 23 percent of Everett High’s 1,555 students are non-white – should be seen as a strength, because it has tremendous potential for increasing cross-cultural understanding and harmony throughout the community. But it also presents challenges.

Change requires people to adapt, and that can be hard. When patience, calm and trust are in short supply, bridges tend to get burned rather than built.

Case in point: the aftermath of an incident that stemmed from a fight between two Hispanic girls on the Everett High campus after school on March 6. Charges that police and school staff overreacted to the situation overlook two important points: the laudable restraint of police officers in a dangerous situation – which the community should be applauding – and the inexcusable behavior of some students.

Everett Police were called after staff members tried unsuccessfully to stop the fight, which had drawn a crowd of between 50 and 100 students. According to a police report, a female officer who was attempting to handcuff one of the girls after breaking up the fight was knocked to the ground by an 18-year-old male. The 911 tape of the incident lays out a frightening scene of an increasingly boisterous crowd that ignored orders to disperse and had officers surrounded. Officers repeatedly called for more assistance. Rather than dispersing when ordered to, police say, some students shouted obscenities at officers and assumed fighting stances.

It took the eventual presence of 14 police officers, including three captains, to finally get things calmed down.

In all, seven students were arrested and 13 were suspended from school, most of them Hispanic. But this incident wasn’t about race. It was about behavior.

Some parents and Hispanic community leaders argue that something like this was bound to happen, and they blame what they say is a lack of progress by school administrators in addressing long-standing diversity issues. Whether progress has been good, bad or somewhere in between, painting the March 6 incident as a racial one doesn’t advance such efforts, it threatens to undermine them. If students were frustrated, this was no way to express it, and parents should be sending them that message – loudly and clearly.

For students, parents and others who believe that diversity makes our community stronger, there remains plenty of work to do. School and community leaders need to get past any old animosities and come up with creative solutions.

Most good human relationships grow from a foundation of trust. Let’s all start there.

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