Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2014

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Sun Youth Forum:

Forum gives students outlet to debate issues

Metro police — like the U.S. government, teachers and administrators, parents, students, the media, society and the world — came under scrutiny by what many considered Clark County’s best and brightest students Tuesday as 700 youth gathered at Cashman Field Center for the 33rd annual SUN Youth Forum.

High school juniors and seniors debated, among so many other topics, their relations with the Las Vegas Metro Police.

“I think cops stereotype teenagers more than we stereotype them,” Angie Calvin, a junior at Clark, told fellow students. “They see us, and they automatically assume we’re smoking, we’re drinking, we’re doing something bad.”

Many nodded in agreement. Others complained about unwarranted searches of their cars, belongings and persons.

“They shouldn’t do it unless their suspicions are reasonably aroused,” Chaparral High’s Kaerensa Craft argued in charging that some searches are conducted on trumped-up beliefs.

“Don’t we have constitutional rights?” offered an angry Paul Darling, a Western High senior.

Yes, teenagers have rights, U.S. District Judge Phillip Pro assured them.

Then this twist: “Do teenagers harass cops?” asked Doni-Kae Empey, a senior at Southern Nevada Vocational Technical Center. Students bad-mouth the police as often as the police verbally abuse Las Vegas youths, she suggested.

Gorman High School student Bryan O’Reilly countered that if police want the respect of students, they should get it the old fashion way: By earning it.

He added that sensitivity training would not be a bad idea, either. UNLV president Robert Maxson, one of the 14 discussion moderators, came away convinced that the students displayed “a good healthy dose of idealism” and “social consciousness.”

“They showed concern for people who can’t help themselves,” Maxson said. “I do think the kids are smarter than past generations.”

Others expressed doubt.

During a group discussion about AIDS, a student noted that the deadly disease can be transmitted using a toothbrush or a razor previously used by an afflicted person. No one challenged that assumption, even though the U.S. surgeon general disagrees and there is no medical evidence to support that notion.

Moderator Tom Biggar, an attorney, said that although it should have been challenged, he did not think it was “a flaw” reflection of “the education system.”

On the contrary, he said the system has responded well. In some instances, students were challenged on various notions — like the girls who challenged a student who claimed AIDS was an exclusively “gay” disease.

AIDS did not appear to be a great concern among high school students in Biggar’s group, although Valley High ’s Jenny Rachiel said “it will be” as the epidemic spreads.

The students said the No. 1 problem in high school is alcohol consumption, noting all the accidents, trouble and deaths that result. Drug usage is less of a problem, they said, and some students called for legalization.

Biggar said he was most surprised by the “whole-hearted support” students gave to the idea that employers should be required by law to provide paid paternity leave for a “few weeks.”

In another group discussion, most students seemed to support Communist China, despite America’s commitment to Taiwan. Bonanza High student Brad Simpson agreed saying it will be a “tremendous advantage for us, both politically and economically,” especially if China develops into a major economic power, as some foresee.

Many students expressed deep concern for the missing U.S. soldiers they believe are still living in Southeast Asia, despite our departure from Vietnam more than a decade ago.

“Until we can get concrete evidence of the existence of POWs, I don’t think politically we’re ever going to get those people out,” Simpsom said. “The U.S. government is kind of embarrassed about that part of history.”

But, said student Kayann Black, “If enough pressure is brought against the U.S. government, something will happen.”

Offered another student: “How do we know the government isn’t doing something” already in a clandestine fashion?