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Handcuffing and Interrogating a 7-Year-Old? The Police State Crashes Into America's Schools

Reactionary policies after Newtown will only bolster the school-to-prison pipeline.
 
 
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Outrage over the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre may or may not spur any meaningful gun control laws, but you can bet your Crayolas that it will lead to more seven-year-olds getting handcuffed and hauled away to local police precincts.

You read that right.  Americans may disagree deeply about how easy it should be for a mentally ill convicted felon to purchase an AR-15, but when it comes to putting more law enforcement officers inside our schools, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and liberal Democrats like Senator Barbara Boxer are as one.  And when police (or “school resource officers” as these sheriff’s deputies are often known) spend time in a school, they often deal with disorder like proper cops -- by slapping cuffs on the little perps and dragging them to the precinct.

Just ask the three nine-year-old girls and an eight-year-old boy who got into a fight at their Baltimore elementary school -- then got  arrested by real police.  Or Salecia Johnson, age six,  cuffed and arrested for throwing a tantrum at her elementary school in Milledgeville, Georgia.  Or Wilson Reyes, a seven-year-old at a Bronx, New York, elementary school who last December 4th was cuffed, hauled away, and  interrogated under suspicion of taking $5 from a classmate.  (Another kid later confessed.)

The last of these incidents made the cover of the New York Post, but the New York City Police Department still doesn’t understand what they did wrong -- sure, the first-grader spent about 4 hours handcuffed in a detention room, but that’s “standard for juvenile arrest.”

Which is precisely the problem: standard juvenile misbehavior (a five-year-old pitching a fit, a 12-year-old  doodling on a desk, a 13-year-old  farting in class, a class clown  running around the football field at halftime in a banana suit) is increasingly being treated like serious crime, resulting in handcuffs and arrest.  If you can’t understand why such “consistency” is crazy, please desist from reading the rest of this article.

It seems grotesque that the horrific slaughter of those 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, will result in more children getting traumatized, but that’s exactly where we’re headed -- with firm bipartisan support.

In his amazing post-Newtown speech last December, Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and executive vice president of the NRA,  called for armed guards in all schools -- a demand widely hailed as jaw-droppingly nutty.  A few weeks later, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed $50 million in federal grants to  installmore metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and National Guard troops in schools, but made her pitch in the caring cadences of a Marin County Democrat.  And when President Obama ordered more police in schools (point 18 in his 23-point Executive Order responding to the Sandy Hook tragedy), it was all over.

So here’s an American reality of 2013: we will soon have more police in our schools, and more seven-year-olds like Joseph Andersons of PS 153 in Maspeth, New York,  getting arrested.  (He got handcuffed after a meltdown when his Easter egg dye-job didn’t come out right.)

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

In fairness to the feds, similar kinds of local responses were already underway before the La Pierre-Boxer Axis of Tiny Handcuffs even arose.  Across the country, from  Florida and Connecticut to TennesseeIndiana, and Arizona, despite tough budgetary times, municipal governments are now eagerly scrounging up the extra money for more metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and armed guards in schools.  (The same thing happened after the Columbine shooting 14 years ago.)  No one keeps national statistics, but  arrests of the 10-and-under set do seem to be on the rise since Sandy Hook. A typical recent case: in January, a seven-year-old at a Connecticut school was  arrested by the police for “threatening” a teacher.  Jitters are understandable after the trauma of Sandy Hook -- but arresting a seven-year-old?