Las Vegas Sun

July 27, 2017

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Where I Stand:

Guns, race, drugs spark spirited debate

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Eyasu Shumie of Advanced Technologies Academy (A-Tech) during the 60th annual Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum at the Las Vegas Convention Center Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.

For 60 years, the Sun Youth Forum has been giving Las Vegas teenagers a chance to offer their perspectives on important public issues. During the annual gathering, which this year attracted about 1,000 students, public high school juniors and seniors engaged in discussions in groups of 40 or so students moderated by a community leader. Each group selected one of its participants to reflect on the experience. This column is written by Eyasu Shumie, a senior at Advanced Technologies Academy. Publisher and Editor Brian Greenspun is turning over his “Where I Stand” column to these young adults, who have something to say.

After a particularly divisive election season, I had no idea what to expect walking into a political discussion filled with students I had never met. While I entered the Sun Youth Forum uncertain and nervous, I left with a sense of reassurance about our nation’s future, and an undoubtedly increased breadth of knowledge about key issues our country is facing.

Gun control sparked a heated debate. Advocates on both sides of the issue were passionate about their beliefs but were willing to make concessions when necessary. Both sides seemed to come to an agreement that our current gun regulations could use some refinement in order to prevent gun violence, but advocates for gun rights believed that expanded background checks would not be the most efficient way to do this. On the other side, students advocating for increased gun regulation pointed to the United States’ extremely high rate of gun-related homicides as an indicator that our current regulations were not doing enough to curb violence. They believed that background checks were an important step in reducing the amount of homicides and suicides related to firearms.

While there was no consensus reached on which policies should be implemented, I’m sure that all of the other students and I gained a new perspective on this controversial topic.

It was inevitable that discussions about race would occur, but the participants remained calm and respectful through the heated debate. While the majority of students recognized the issue of a widening mistrust between police forces and the communities they serve, there was no consensus as to the cause of that mistrust. Some pointed to the level of racism prevalent in some police departments, specifically citing the police force of Ferguson, Mo., after a Justice Department probe found that “African-Americans experience disparate impact in nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system.”

Others believed that the media were vilifying police forces and exacerbating the issue to a boiling point. Regardless of the cause, many turned to Metro Police as a guiding light for police reforms across the nation. Since instituting reforms over the past four years, Metro has increased de-escalation training, increased accountability for officers, allowed third parties to assess the state of the department and instituted more reforms suggested by the federal government.

It has lowered the number of officer-related shootings significantly. The majority of students acknowledged that there were fundamental issues with our policing, but that we can decrease the number of officer-related killings and increase trust within our communities by using these strategies on a national level.

Similarly, the majority of people in our discussion agreed that the United States has a significant problem with its justice system.

Largely because of the war on drugs, about 1 percent of Americans are currently imprisoned, giving us the largest prison population in the world. The majority of students in the room agreed with Nevada’s vote to legalize recreational marijuana and believed that the punishment for simple possession of many drugs should be greatly reduced. Students argued that drug issues should be treated from a rehabilitative mindset instead of a punitive one.

Despite many disagreements during the debate, there was never a disrespectful moment during the entire session. Though our ideas may have differed, everyone there truly wanted to help our country succeed and we worked together to develop ideas to do just that.