Was Trayon White Arrested for Standing Up for his Constituents?
“How am I unauthorized [to be here]?” Ward 8 School Board member Trayon White asked while standing at the Woodland Terrace Public Housing Project, which resides in the ward he’s elected to represent. White spoke with TheFightBack at the very spot where he was arrested Sept. 24 for violating a barring notice he says he knew nothing about.
“I only saw it after the incident occurred, after I was arrested. They said they barred me for five years for being an unauthorized person on the property, which is insane because I’ve been working here for seven years,” said the 27-year-old White, who runs a nonprofit, Helping Inner City Kids Succeed (HICKS).
In a letter to U.S. Attorney Ron Machen and D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan, several local attorneys, led by Johnny Barnes, executive director of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, expressed their “alarm and great concern over the manner in which ‘Barring Notices’ are being used and prosecutions undertaken in the far Southeast Area of Washington, D.C., such as the Woodland Terrace Public Housing Project.”
The letter continues, “We urge you to immediately investigate what appears to be a systematic, unfair and unjust targeting of young African American males, resulting in arrests, criminal charges and records of individuals, in many cases, who have never had a problem with the judicial apparatus.”
White was arrested by D.C. Housing Authority police, who this year have barred 67 people from Woodland Terrace, according to Housing Authority spokeswoman Dena Michaelson. While the power to bar an individual from visiting his family, or his constituents, is extraordinary, it is a tool that is widely available to law enforcement officials. “Any one of our sworn police officers, or special police officers and MPD officers, can issue a barring notice,” Dep. Chief Jesse Millhouse of the D.C. Housing Police told ABC7’s Sam Ford.
This week, the charges against White, who has no criminal record, were dropped. Now, White should have access to all of his constituents, allowing him to serve unimpeded as the school board member for a ward that has many students and faces many challenges. White pointed to his alma mater as an example of the negative impact Ward 8 experiences as a result of disparate funding levels for schools in different parts of the city.
“Last year, Ballou Senior High School [in Ward 8] had the second highest amount of students in the school next to Wilson [H.S. in Ward 3], yet they had one of the lowest budgets. It’s supposed to be on a per-pupil ratio that the money gets distributed and there’s supposed to be equity. [But] it’s not distributed in the right way and as a result the kids are getting a less than quality education… I’ve been in classrooms where it’s over forty people in the classroom to one teacher and there’s not even forty chairs in the classroom so young people have to stand.”
In addition to the inequitable funding levels, Ward 8 students too often have to deal with poverty, White said. “There’s a whole lot of stuff that’s going on outside of learning… [And] it creates a lot of barriers for a regular child, who has the potential to be something great, [but gets] held back because of the social issues that face a lot of the young people in our community.”
Too often, instead of addressing poverty, gentrification just changes its address, pushing it into Prince George’s County and elsewhere, explained White. “You ride through Ward 8, it’s transforming. Unfortunately, those that have are trying to move out those who have not, and you can see it happening all over the place,” he said.
This displacement is hastened by the removal of black men from the community, according to White. “One of the fastest ways to cripple the family is to cut off the head. That’s why a lot of the black men are being removed from the family at alarming rates, down to the boys. That’s what’s happening.”
Housing Authority won’t say why they had barred White, but he feels it’s because he stands up for his community, his constituents. White told City Paper, “When [the police] mistreat people, I stand up for them.”
Check out this report on Barring Notices by ABC7’s Sam Ford.