By Jeremiah Tramble
In 2014, I transferred from Venice High to Central High in Mar Vista Gardens. At the time, I thought I had finally found a school where I felt safe, valued and supported. For the first time, I had a teacher who motivated me to get the most out of my education.
But that changed five months into my senior year when I was abruptly pulled out of class and searched for weapons and contraband even though I had not done anything wrong.
The day started off like any other. I arrived at school and started working on my U.S. government and economics homework. Something, however, felt odd. I noticed the principal was in my classroom observing students, and it was clear that she was watching me closely. After a few minutes, the principal looked at our class roster and selected a “random” selection of student names, beginning with me.
We were told to grab our personal belongings and follow the principal and another administrator to a separate room.
Once in the room, the principal told us that if we have any contraband, we “might as well give it up now,” and then started to search through our bags. The other administrator told me to take off my sweater and waved the metal detector over my body. When the wand didn’t detect anything, he told me to take off my shoes so he could search them again with the wand. They didn’t find anything on me or any of my classmates.
The incident left me feeling hurt, confused and discriminated against. As the only African-American student in the class, I felt as if school officials targeted me because I was different. It was even worse because I came to this school because it was safe and because I wanted to stop being treated like a suspect all the time. I didn’t understand why they needed to search us, when we’ve never had a crime or weapon on campus.
The administrators said they would keep coming back to search us because it was the Los Angeles Unified School District’s policy.
Before I was searched, I was doing well in school and was on track to graduate. But after the incident I was deeply shaken. Despite having followed the rules and worked hard to do well, I found myself subject to searches and treated like a criminal at school. I felt discouraged, dehumanized, and not valued.
After that incident, I grew angry and my desire to learn decreased. I found that I couldn’t concentrate because I was extremely uncomfortable, knowing I could be searched at any moment. The only way to make it stop was to stay out of school. I wanted to attend school but I didn’t want to feel like a criminal.
The next day, I decided not to attend Central High. I was worried that there were plans to conduct another search that day. Out of respect for my teacher who goes by the name Vitaly, I didn’t want to attend class filled with anger, fear and anxiety. The experience kept me out of school for a month. Luckily, my mom and Vitaly stepped in and encourage me to return to school. I came back during the last two weeks to complete the two classes I needed to graduate.
Looking back now, I wish I had known that the administrators weren’t allowed to ask me to take off my clothes. I wish I had known that the administration can’t target students for searches based on their race. I wish I had known that students have constitutional rights, even in school, and that searches like the one I went through violate those rights.
But at least I know my rights now and can assert them when I feel they are being violated. Fortunately, my teacher, Vitaly held a “Know Your Rights” training workshop, and now I know how to conduct myself in the future, if there is another search.
I am a student, not a suspect.
Jeremiah Tramble is a graduate of Central High in Los Angeles.