(Della Hasselle/The Lens) Credit: Della Hasselle / The Lens

What does public safety look like for a high schooler in New Orleans? This is a question I wish teachers, elected officials and family members would ask more young people in the city. To me, public safety looks like feeling comfortable in and out of school, having a reliable support system of adults and focusing on my goals rather than providing for myself and worrying about life safety. Those basic needs should already be met.

While elected officials frequently talk at young people about ways to make the city safer, the lack of partnership results in our proposed solutions often being dismissed. Instead of listening to young people, elected officials impose curfews, criminalizing our very existence in public spaces after a certain time. They institute regressive policies that act against our best interests — like increasing policing within schools. More specifically, when police aren’t trained to be around children and are more likely to target Black and brown students, the increased police presence acts against our best interests.

We can make our city safer for residents of all ages, but it’s going to take more than one-sided conversations and regressive policies. It’s going to take outside-the-box ideas, listening to young people like myself, and action. We can’t afford Band-Aid tactics like curfews and increased law enforcement in schools.

So what’s the first step? The first step is following the recommendations we’ve developed as part of the Youth Master Plan and getting involved in the implementation of our proposed solutions. If we want to improve outcomes in our city, then we need to make sure young people have the freedom to explore our city and access new opportunities.  A solution like guaranteed income is a strong step forward, too. We need a minimum wage increase that will improve the lives and outcomes of young people. In addition, it’s time to expose young people to the career and technical education opportunities that will be available after graduation.

We’ll also need the support to physically get there. We must ensure the public transit system encompasses the entire New Orleans metro area. Transit should be safe, and fares should be lowered or free for all who are between five and twenty-five years old. Going beyond the ride fare, we must ensure that RTA bus drivers have appropriate training to respond to passengers in crisis. Steps like these provide the foundation for young people to not only pursue goals that serve our community but also feel like they are invested in and cared for.

These are just a few of the recommendations we’ve outlined in the Youth Master Plan. We’ve got more to share, and the people of New Orleans have more work to do. Young people know the ways we can make our city safer in the future. Just follow our lead.

Christina You is a rising senior at Benjamin Franklin High School and the executive chair of the New Orleans Youth Advisory Board. She is passionate about supporting her community and uplifting young voices.