Elsewhere in L.A., the Columbine shootings threw local children into an uproar. After an e-mailed shooting threat to Portola Middle School in Tarzana, authorities conducted a locker-by-locker metal-detector search, sixth-grader Robin Zhou said. Kathleen Glaudini, a sixth-grader at Bancroft Performing Arts Magnet in Hollywood, said she cried the night after a school assembly on how to inform on peers who planned to "get violent."
The Milonopouloses have collected signatures from more than 6,000 kids, but their petition appears to be on the fast track to nowhere. Mark Chekal, consultant to the Select Committee on Gun Violence in the state Assembly, says, "As long as guns are legal, it’s going to be hard to restrict the sale of bullets."
Children face violence on a daily basis — in school-yard fights, gang shootouts and angry homes — not just when it erupts in headlines. And they haven’t given up on the hope for peace. The Milonopouloses are slated to submit their signatures to the City Council in June. A spokesman for one council member said privately that he expected the proposal to be buried.—Ronnie Cohen
JUVENILE SLAVE TRADE
Students at Hollingworth Elementary School in West Covina are saving their pennies to buy back slaves from the East African country of Sudan. At principal Catherine Carter’s instigation, K-through-sixth-grade students have donated $2,100 in cash and checks, plus jars of coins, to purchase black women and children abducted from southern Sudan in that country’s civil war. One third-grader has already pitched in $105 in birthday and holiday money. "That’s like you or me donating $10,000," said Carter, who first learned of the program from TV.
Laudable objective, freedom, OffBeat thought. But do we want our schoolchildren trafficking in human flesh, however noble the impulse? We decided to investigate.
Since Sudan’s independence in 1956, southern rebels, mainly black Christians and followers of tribal religions, have fought for autonomy from the Khartoum government, which is dominated by northern Arabs. Local militias fighting for the Arab government are not salaried, and often take their payment in black slaves. While the government denies it condones slavery, the U.S. and United Nations say it encourages the practice. The Muslim enslavement of mostly Christian villagers has become a cause célèbre on the Christian evangelical circuit, inspiring a number of buy-back programs by religious organizations and broadcasters.
The Hollingworth schoolchildren’s money will be sent to a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, the American Anti-Slavery Group, which in turn funnels the funds to Christian Solidarity International. That Swiss-based charity, according to published reports, has made more than a dozen risky, clandestine flights to southern Sudan to redeem slaves since 1995. The slaves are bought from middlemen called slave "retrievers," and presumably returned to their families and villages.
Many groups, however, including Human Rights Watch and UNICEF, have condemned slave buy-backs. UNICEF this year warned that the humanitarians with their foreign dollars were fuel-ing the arms trade in the impoverished region. In a one-week period, they poured close to $90,000 into a village with an average annual income of $200. Alex de Waal of the London-based group African Rights told the Christian Science Monitorthat by paying large sums to free slaves, the Swiss charity was undercutting local villagers who do the same work for a fraction of the cost. Christian Solidarity, which has no permanent staff on the ground in the Sudan, concedes that its members do not follow up to see if the villagers are recaptured.
Charles Jacobs, president of the American Anti-Slavery Group, said that certain groups did an about-face on slave purchases because they blew their own buy-backs. "They spent money and risked lives and didn’t buy slaves back from the right people. They were not authorized slave retrievers," Jacobs charged. OffBeat asked Jacobs when he had last examined the situation firsthand. "I have never been to Sudan," Jacobs said.
Carter was undeterred by the criticism. "They are kids. They see kids as slaves and they want to put an end to it," Carter said. "They deserve our praise, not our criticism."—Sara Dunn