Criminal Justice Conversations with David Onek: Dr. Joe Marshall, Omega Boys Club | KALW

Criminal Justice Conversations with David Onek: Dr. Joe Marshall, Omega Boys Club

Feb 16, 2010


In Episode #2, Dr. Joe Marshall, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Omega Boys Club in San Francisco, discusses the program’s 150 college graduates, hosting the Street Soldiers radio show, helping young people stay “alive and free,” bridging the gap between the police and the community, and more.

Marshall Interview Highlights

Marshall on Why He Founded the Omega Boys Club:

“I was teaching in middle school, primarily teaching math. I figured if the kids could survive me as an instructor they’d be OK. I was a pretty demanding instructor. The kids did really well with me. So when the young people graduated from middle school I fully expected them to do well in high school and go on to college. But I began to get horror stories about my former students – everything from them being on drugs, selling drugs, girls getting pregnant at an early age, and I actually ended up going to the funeral of some of my former students. I use the phrase ‘my kids were getting F’s in life, but A’s in math’ and it’s pretty tough to have a kid get an A in geometry, at the age of thirteen, and be dead by the age of twenty. So I said being a good teacher is not enough. When you’re a teacher and the kids graduate, you lose connections. My thing was to keep them connected to me, and that vehicle was the Omega Boys Club.”

Marshall on Helping Young People Combat Peer Pressure:

“Peer pressure is the Achilles heal of young people. So I knew if I wanted to keep them alive and free and have a chance to succeed, I had to be able to counter peer pressure. So I gave them a rule – young people, they understand rules. The rule is very simple: ‘A friend is someone who will never lead you to danger.’ A friend to them is anybody they can talk to, anybody they have a long-standing relationship with, somebody that has their back -- I had to frame their relationships with everybody. If they have a problem and they say ‘but my friend got…’, I say ‘he can’t be your friend because he led you to danger.” It sticks -- they use it, and my young people, when they get it, don’t have a problem with peer pressure.”

Marshall on Having the Community Hold Itself Accountable:

“When the police do something that the community thinks is wrong -- the reaction that you get when they believe the police are not doing things as they should, they’ll march, they’ll come up to the police station, and do all of this. When their neighbor does that, when their brother does that, when anyone in their community does that, the reaction is -- I can’t get a peep out of people. They hold everyone else accountable and the police should be held accountable, but they do not hold themselves accountable. And if you think about it, they’re far more in danger from their neighbor, their brother. I want them to be as vocal and as upset and as challenging to the people that are actually doing these things to them as they are to law enforcement when law enforcement is in the wrong.”


The Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast with David Onek features in-depth, thirty-minute interviews with a wide range of criminal justice leaders: law enforcement officials, policymakers, advocates, service providers, academics and others.

The Podcast gets behind the sound bites that far too often dominate the public dialogue about criminal justice, to have detailed, nuanced conversations about criminal justice policy.

Podcast host David Onek is a Senior Fellow at Berkeley Law School and a former Commissioner on the San Francisco Police Commission.

You can find more information on the Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast and listen to all past episodes on the Podcast web site.

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