Two of my new students walked into class last night empty-handed. I insist that my students keep all their work in a binder and bring it nightly and to make this easier I even give them (freecycled) binders. When I asked these students where their notebooks were I got a heated tirade in Spanish about the police, jail, and prostitutes. I decided to revisit this after class when I had a bit more time, gave them paper and pencils, and proceeded to teach my class.
Afterward I got the full story. It seems that these two kids (both under 18) were walking home from class Wednesday night along SE 82nd Avenue, the busy 4-lane street on which the community college where I teach is located. 82nd Avenue is not a lovely street. It's known primarily for its blocks an blocks of used car lots, fast food restaurants, and tiny mom-and-pop, primarily immigrant-run storefronts. Oh, and hookers. Since the city allowed the "prostitution-free zone" to expire recently business has been up. It was pretty wild along 82nd Avenue this summer. All I experienced during my commute was eye-popping amounts of flesh, but local residents are furious at the activity taking place on the side streets, in front of homes, and behind businesses.
With all this background, you can probably already guess what happened. The boys were walking along 82nd to catch the bus when they were approached by a woman looking for business. They rebuffed her offer but apparently she followed them and kept pestering them at which point, wouldn't you know, Portland's finest show up and everyone was taken to jail for the night. The boys had everything taken from them including their school books and the cash they had in their wallets. They are hoping to recover these things by the weekend as this is all the money either of them has. They think they might need to go to court but they aren't entirely sure since no one explained anything to them in Spanish. That's the part that kills me. If our police department doesn't see the wisdom in providing basic Spanish language training to its officers or, better yet, hiring bilingual officers, couldn't they at least hire some interpreters?
And, more to the point, don't the police have better things to do? I understand that area residents are upset by the growth in prostitution and dismayed that the city let the admittedly effective prostitution-free zone expire, but the police are maybe overreacting.
The summer before last, while the zoning was still in effect, a young Afghan woman I'd known for over a year as a student in our program, was delivered to the doors of the school in a police car. She explained to me that she had been riding the bus from her workplace to school. On this very hot day she decided to get off the stifling bus at the McDonald's on 82nd to get some water and then walk the remaining blocks to school. Now, if you were to judge a girl's profession purely by how she dresses, you might get the wrong idea about this girl given her fondness for heavy makeup, big hair, high heels, and tight-fitting clothes. Regardless of how she looks, she's a deli clerk at New Seasons with a whole bunch of brothers here and a fiance in Kabul who wouldn't be too pleased if they found out the police thought she was a "working girl". Luckily we were able to vouch for her with the police. I don't know what (if anything) she told her family because I don't know if she ever understood why she'd been stopped.
I am not necessarily anti-police by any means. My brother was a cop, after all. But I do think that with all the power they have, they must be better trained in how to communicate with non-native English speakers. As for prostitution, it's been around an awfully long time. I don't think we'll be wiping it out in East Portland anytime soon.