Stop Brutalizing Kids in the Classroom

This piece originally appeared on MSNBC.

A turning point in the civil rights movement came in the spring of 1963 when the police and fire departments of Birmingham, Alabama, trained fire hoses and sicced police dogs on demonstrators protesting segregation at lunch counters and stores in that city. Though black people had long been the targets of such violence, particularly in the South, the presence of news cameras brought this shocking reality into the living rooms of people across the country for the first time.

The impact of this brutal footage was dramatic, leading President Kennedy to conclude, “The events in Birmingham … have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.”

The use of violence like this against anyone was shocking, but the fact that it was being directed against children as well as adults brought home the brutality with particular force.

Fast forward to this week in Richland County, South Carolina, where a disturbing video has emerged of a black high school student sitting at her desk. A white, male school police officer appears to put his hands around her neck, then yanks her back, flipping over her chair and sending her crashing to the floor. He then proceeds to fling her across the room.

This video is a textbook example of the dangers of the misuse of police officers in schools. There is little indication of efforts to defuse the situation, to reason with the child, or to otherwise act in a way that is humane and appropriate.

Instead, the footage depicts an adult officer asserting his power and authority over a student who has not threatened or harmed anyone.

What’s also chilling about the video is how casual the violence appears. Had a teacher or school administrator engaged in the same behavior, there would have been little question that it would be deemed unacceptable.

Wearing a uniform and a badge should not make someone less accountable for their actions. In fact, it should make them more so.

Though this video is difficult to watch, it’s instructive. What the viewer is forced to confront is symptomatic of broader issues relating to the school-to-prison pipeline in general and the misues of police in schools specifically.

In the name of so-called “school security,” children — and particularly students of color and students with disabilities — are often the targets of excessive use of force. After a recent, in-depth analysis of school discipline data, The New York Times concluded that in schools where administrators rely on law enforcement to discipline students, relatively minor offenses are more likely to be inflated to criminal offenses to the detriment of the students.

The enforcement activities of police in schools must be limited to issues involving violations of criminal laws and not school disciplinary rules. 

Too often, children in schools have found themselves targeted by officers, not protected by them. This must end.

It is important that all schools use this as an opportunity to examine carefully the way officers operate in their institutions. In deciding what role law enforcement plays on campus, it would be wise first to examine whether resources invested in school security might not be better expended on enhanced counseling services and programs involving positive behavior support. Both have been proven to create school environments that are safe and conducive to learning.

For those instances when it is appropriate for officers to intervene, their responsibilities and authority must be clearly defined and there should be transparency regarding their actions. Fairness and sound educational policy suggest that their responsibilities should be limited to the enforcement of criminal laws and that they ought to be trained to deal with young people in all circumstances.

We must assure that all of our children are given the opportunity to be educated in schools in which they can learn safely, free from danger, including by those who are charged with protecting them. 

To paraphrase President Kennedy, this is a cry that no school can prudently choose to ignore. 

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Anonymous

How does the ACLU propose that we deal with these Thug black pieces of scum? Black people act this way so they have to be treated like animals.

Anonymous

Removing a student from a classroom can be done without danger of breaking his or her neck. The cop in the video is online elsewhere lifting 600 pounds in a bench press. Such strength would enable him to bodily remove the student from the desk or even remove the desk with the student in it.

Taking the students into another room where the misbehaving student would be left sitting alone in an empty room would usually help stop the bad behavior. If not, the officer could still have removed the student without throwing her down.

There are lots of rotten kids of all colors today. They might need a spanking, but they don't need their necks broken by a cop having a roid rage. The kids get no guidance or discipline and they learn to be smart mouths from the glut of police shows on TV. If the girl had suffered an injury from the manhandling, the school would be facing a lawsuit and not merely looking bad and possibly a little embarrassed because of the video showing what was allowed to go on by school administrators.

Putting the kids in detention was pretty effective for a long time. Forcing the students to do their work or study and not being able to speak to anyone was worse than getting thrown down. How to deal with bad behavior has many approaches. None need involve bodily harm.

Justin

Racist. What do you think this is, the 1940's?

@ChristineIAm

It's racist assholes like you (Anon 10/28/15 @3:47pm) that cause white thugs to do what we see in the video. You, and your kind, are the problem....
Regards,
Christine, a 48 y/o white women

Anonymous

you are stupid and you are an animal. you and your children should be treated like that.

Concerned

This type of behavior should be handled by parents, teacher, counselors and behavioral professionals, not police. Schools should have their own security or contracted security that are trained in deescalating disruptive, defiant and antisocial behavioral problems. This is just one of the many things police are ask to do that they should not be doing. Put teaching and counseling children back were it should be, at home and in schools by trained professionals.

ACLU is part of...

Dear ACLU, children in our society are not like they used to be. Many get little parenting and are way more aggressive than they used to be. They act out with more defiance and aggression than eny other generation before them. They are justified by the media and they feel they have some unearned right to question and disrespect authority. Your suggestive wording about race also creates a not needed fuel to the fire. "Black student" "white adult officer" are examples of what creates hysteria among the suggestive minds of americans. I suggest you start off by picking a topic in which this situation falls under first. Is this racism or is this police brutality? I also suggest you then come up with a root solution to the problem before running your mouths about how wrong it is to have "cops in the classroom" taking officers out of the classroom is not going to stop the behaviors of the students that got the officers in the classroom to begin with. If the faculty and therapists of thr schools could control the problem we wouldn't have put the officers in the schools to begin with. That leaves us with 2 things, the parenting and the students themselves. Fix them and your "cops in the classroom" problem is solved. What this officer did was excessive and i do not support his actions but i have seen your organization stick their nose where it doesn't belong so many times its sickening. Your knee jerk reactions are ruining your reputation as a stand up organization. Stop reporting on the reaction and get down to action!

PEP

Well put.

Anonymous

Although i agree with with the real problem is...the parents, you can not fix a multi-generational problem over night with 'oppressed feeling' black culture. Violence against a child who has yet to understand consequences is not the answer. Seem as though the faculty and/or therapist could not come up with a solution for a non-threatening situation, so they gave up and called the police. There is a long list of issues that should be solved... bad school policies, incompetent and knee jerk reaction school administrators, bad social behavior, bad parenting, and bad policing that always go for the most violent use of force. Its hard to pick just 1 topic when there is so much going wrong.

Old Enuf 2b ur ...

I am mortified by what I am seeing on twitter and various comment threads. I came to this site to find out if there is anything that can be done to halt the charges on these two girls and end what is becoming further abuse of them. I have yet to see anything that justifies the SRO being called to the room, or even the girl being asked to leave it. I began following this intently early on the morning after it happened. Early enough to find the original news postings. How can we get these charges dropped. It needs to happen.

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