"ALL OF US responded very quickly, very swiftly and very directly."
That was Mayor Nutter's jaw-dropping assessment yesterday of the school district's response to attacks on 30 Asian students by mostly African-American students at South Philadelphia High School on Dec. 3.
This was Nutter's first statement on the subject - 12 days after the attacks. An investigation into the incident isn't completed, but the mayor seems to know whose side he's on, and it isn't the kids'.
About 25 of the students - some of whom were sent to the hospital after the incident - were still boycotting classes yesterday because, among other things, they want school officials held accountable for allowing the situation to deteriorate. But Nutter gave props to Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Nutter said Ackerman "jumped on [the matter] in the most immediate fashion."
Perhaps the mayor should Google "immediate." It took Ackerman eight days after the attacks to make her way three miles down Broad Street to visit the school. At a hearing at the School Reform Commission last week, she couldn't resist suggesting that some people - she didn't say who - were trying to "sensationalize" the incident, as if a roaming mob dragging Asian kids out of classes needed sensationalizing.
Some action has been taken: 10 students - six blacks and four Asians - have been suspended with intent to expel, and six security guards who didn't do their jobs that day were transferred to other schools. Police officers have been added, as have security cameras. There are more translators for the Asian students, many of them taking English as a Second Language classes and diversity training.
This has been the school violence repertoire for years: blame the kids and bring on the police. And it's hard to imagine even this response if 50-some Asian students had not boycotted classes. We admire their determination to make things better for themselves and their school.
But what about adult support staff at the school who, according to the students, did nothing to stop the attacks? Even before Dec. 3, adults in the school had allowed a toxic, racially charged environment to develop. As students told the SRC, adults often verbally assaulted them, calling out, "Hey, Chinese." "Yo, Bruce Lee. Where are you from? Speak English."
And what about South Philadelphia principal LaGreta Brown? Brown left her job in Atlantic City last year under a cloud, to put it mildly.
This year, Brown did little if anything to confront a 32 percent spike in assaults just since the beginning of the year.
Allan Wong, a member of the mayor's own Commission on Asian American Affairs, told the Inquirer that two other schools in the neighborhood responded quickly to his attempts to discuss attacks on Asian students last year. But he got no response from South Philadelphia High School, after three attempts.
This incident could have been a "teachable moment": an opportunity for students, for the adults charged with educating them, and for the city to discuss the racial tensions in our schools and how to deal with them. It still could be: All it takes is a leader to step forward.
Constitution Center, anyone? *