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6-Year-Olds Under Arrest
April 9, 2007 permalink
Six-year-old Desre’e Watson has a tantrum in school. She is charged with felony battery, and resisting arrest. Though written in the style of The Onion, this editorial is not a spoof.
6-Year-Olds Under Arrest
The New York Times, Op-Ed Columnist, By BOB HERBERT, Published: April 9, 2007
Avon Park, Fla.
When 6-year-old Desre’e Watson threw a tantrum in her kindergarten class a couple of weeks ago she could not have known that the full force of the law would be brought down on her and that she would be carted off by the police as a felon.
But that’s what happened in this small, backward city in central Florida. According to the authorities, there were no other options.
“The student became violent,” said Frank Mercurio, the no-nonsense chief of the Avon Park police. “She was yelling, screaming — just being uncontrollable. Defiant.”
“But she was 6,” I said.
The chief’s reply came faster than a speeding bullet: “Do you think this is the first 6-year-old we’ve arrested?”
The child’s tantrum occurred on the morning of March 28 at the Avon Elementary School. According to the police report, “Watson was upset and crying and wailing and would not leave the classroom to let them study, causing a disruption of the normal class activities.”
After a few minutes, Desre’e was, in fact, taken to another room. She was “isolated,” the chief said. But she would not calm down. She flailed away at the teachers who tried to control her. She pulled one woman’s hair. She was kicking.
I asked the chief if anyone had been hurt. “Yes,” he said. At least one woman reported “some redness.”
After 20 minutes of this “uncontrollable” behavior, the police were called in. At the sight of the two officers, Chief Mercurio said, Desre’e “tried to take flight.”
She went under a table. One of the police officers went after her. Each time the officer tried to grab her to drag her out, Desre’e would pull her legs away, the chief said.
Ultimately the child was no match for Avon Park’s finest. The cops pulled her from under the table and handcuffed her. The officers were not fooling around. In the eyes of the cops the 6-year-old was a criminal, and in Avon Park she would be treated like any other felon.
There was a problem, though. The handcuffs were not manufactured with kindergarten kids in mind. The chief explained: “You can’t handcuff them on their wrists because their wrists are too small, so you have to handcuff them up by their biceps.”
As I sat listening to Chief Mercurio in a spotless, air-conditioned conference room at the Avon Park police headquarters, I had the feeling that I had somehow stumbled into the middle of a skit on “Saturday Night Live.” The chief seemed like the most reasonable of men, but what was coming out of his mouth was madness.
He handed me a copy of the police report: black female. Six years old. Thin build. Dark complexion.
Desre’e was put in the back of a patrol car and driven to the police station. “Then,” said Chief Mercurio, “she was transported to central booking, which is the county jail.”
The child was fingerprinted and a mug shot was taken. “Those are the normal procedures for anyone who is arrested,” the chief said.
Desre’e was charged with battery on a school official, which is a felony, and two misdemeanors: disruption of a school function and resisting a law enforcement officer. After a brief stay at the county jail, she was released to the custody of her mother.
The arrest of this child, who should have been placed in the care of competent, comforting professionals rather than being hauled off to jail, is part of an outlandish trend of criminalizing very young children that has spread to many school districts and law enforcement agencies across the country.
A highly disproportionate number of those youngsters, like Desre’e, are black. In Baltimore last month, the police arrested, handcuffed and hauled away a 7-year-old black boy for allegedly riding a dirt bike on the sidewalk. The youngster was released and the mayor, Sheila Dixon, apologized for the incident, saying the arrest was inappropriate.
Last spring a number of civil rights organizations collaborated on a study of disciplinary practices in Florida schools and concluded that many of them, “like many districts in other states, have turned away from traditional education-based disciplinary methods — such as counseling, after-school detention, or extra homework assignments — and are looking to the legal system to handle even the most minor transgressions.”
Once you adopt the mindset that ordinary childhood misbehavior is criminal behavior, it’s easy to start seeing young children as somehow monstrous.
“Believe me when I tell you,” said Chief Mercurio, “a 6-year-old can inflict injury to you just as much as any other person.”
Source: The New York Times
Addendum: A reader wrote:
I suppose that now that the village has taken on raising our children they will start making handcuffs in smaller sizes.
History repeats itself
Girl, 6, Handcuffed, Committed Because Of Classroom Behavior
Parents Call Measures Extreme, But Sheriff's Office Report Says Daughter Out Of Control
POSTED: 5:42 pm EST February 10, 2010
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- A Port St. Lucie first-grade student was handcuffed and committed to a mental health facility because of her classroom behavior, and her parents are furious that the school took such extreme measures.
Mickey Shalansky explained Wednesday what he said happened to his 6-year-old daughter at Parkway Elementary.
"She couldn't put her in two handcuffs because her wrists are that small, so she put them both in the same handcuff and left marks on my daughter's arms," Shalansky told WPBF 25 News' Bob Kaple.
But a St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office report paints a much different picture.
Deputies said his daughter, Haley, got upset and stormed out her classroom when her teacher asked her to do something. The report said it then escalated into a temper tantrum in the principal's office.
According to the incident report, a deputy said Haley was out of control. It said she "kicked the wall, went over to the desk and threw the calculator, electric pencil sharpener, telephone, container of writing utensils and other objects across the desk."
She was then handcuffed.
"I don't think it should have had to come to this -- you know, to put a little girl, 6 years old, 37 pounds in handcuffs and take her away in a police car," Shalansky said.
Even worse is what happened the next day, Haley's parents said.
A deputy was called to the school again after Haley had another tantrum in the classroom and principal's office.
The sheriff's report said she was yelling, throwing things and hit the principal, who is eight months pregnant. This time, she wasn't handcuffed. She was committed to a mental facility.
"I was terrified," mother Kathy Franklin said. "I left work crying, terrified. Where is my baby? What are they doing with my baby?"
Haley's parents said their daughter has a temper problem, but has no history of mental illness. Her mother said the school should have called her so she could pick up her daughter rather than have her committed.
"They have looked at her here," Franklin said of the New Horizons mental health facility. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with my child. I work in daycare. I know what a child that has problems -- you know, I know how to deal with them. I know what they act like."
Shalansky said to have his daughter committed is "just wrong."
The report also said the school has contacted Haley's parents several times about setting up a meeting to discuss her behavior, but they have never shown up.
Franklin said she was supposed to meet with school officials Tuesday but had to cancel because she had car problems.
Meanwhile, her parents have kept Haley and her sister home from school.
Source: WPBF West Palm Beach