Why are many adults in Chicago and in our entire country so afraid of their youth? In fact, the United States is the only powerful country in the United Nations that has not ratified the UN’s Compact on the Rights of the Child. Why oppose a pact that states, “The child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection”?
Among the UN Compact’s other provisions is one that prohibits a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for anyone under 18. This too, is a rebuke of our country’s new affection for locking up youth for life (trying children as adults). The planet’s richest nation has shocked the world with its eagerness to dispose of its children.
A lurid example of this attitude was on national and global display on March 14, nearly three months ago, when a video camera, which was rolling as part of a classroom self-improvement exercise, captured images of a 5-year-old girl tearing papers off a bulletin board, throwing books, climbing on a table and kicking, punching an assistant principal, before police were called to the Fairmont Park Elementary School in Pinellas County, St. Petersburg, Fla. The tape then shows the child appearing to be calmed down, sitting in a chair, before three police officers approach, pin her arms behind her and put on handcuffs as she screams frantically, “No! No!”
Police officials in St. Petersburg declined to comment, citing an official complaint by the child’s mother that started an investigation of the four officers who were present. Two were new recruits who were being trained that day. After placing the child in the back of a police car, the officers released her to her mother because the prosecutors told them they wouldn’t charge a 5-year-old.
I first heard of this incident in April while listening to radio station WVON. After tuning in to the Cliff Kelley morning show, I thought some of the callers’ comments were frightening and sad. I could feel the hatred and venom flowing through their veins from their “voice tones.”
As a former behavior-disorder special education teacher, I called in and said that the police and the school officials present should be sent to Dr. Carl Bell, a renowned psychiatrist here in Chicago, along with a few of the callers.
Whatever happened to common sense? Since the Columbine school killings, have our zero-tolerance policies produced zero thinking? I don’t care what color you are in this country or the world, a 5-year-old child, regardless of the behavior in school, should not be handcuffed. Anybody in authority in schools or the police departments who cannot handle a 5-year-old in a classroom should look for another occupation.
Working with children who “act out” is not a cakewalk. You earn your money. Brute force, which is the easy way, requires “zero” thinking.
After viewing the tape, like the Rodney King beating tape, one sees what one wants to see on that tape, and one’s experience with race cannot easily be separated from that vision. From my experiences the child’s behavior was nothing new. I have seen 5-year-olds from other races acting similarly and worse in public schools in this country, yet none were handcuffed. In fact, the end results were the same: “Just acting out.”
I am not going to demonize white children based on the actions of a few. Acting out in a classroom happens, folks. But this one was different. It kept on rolling into the television sets and on the Internet in homes across the country?”demonizing black children with the speed of modern media, turning them into local and national stereotype arguments with a cast of thousands, all expressing a variety of pent-up resentments on both sides of the color line.
Let’s put the handcuffs aside for the moment because there was something else that the video showed that troubled me almost as much. The thought process of the adults involved?”both the school and the police?”to even “think” of using handcuffs was alarming.
There are four steps in use of force taught by most police academies in our country. The first step is verbal. The last step is deadly force. Have we become a city or nation of moral masochists? Are our children the chief victims of our neuroses and has our turn toward rigid self-righteousness targeted them?
What triggered the 5-year-old girl’s “bad actions” was the teacher using incorrect methods to correct the girl’s behavior. During this “experiment” on self-improvement, the students were counting jelly beans as part of a math exercise when the little girl began acting silly. That’s when her teacher took away her jelly beans (allegedly snatched), outraging the child.
The 5-year-old was not a terrorist but an ordinary child with problems who has not lived long enough to understand how to handle her emotions. She was just a child having a “bad day.” Adults have “bad days.” When we act a little strange (temporary insanity) and do things we would ordinarily not do, we cannot blame our parents. I am not making excuses for the little girl’s negative behavior, but her life has been damaged more by stupid adults’ actions. Remedies? Laws or punishment cannot change grown adults’ “mind-sets.”
We find no evidence in this case for a future crime wave caused by “super-predator” 5-year-olds. The super-predator thesis was spread by John Dilulio (in 1996), the man who currently heads Bush’s faith-based and community initiatives.
Church children, take cover!