Right now, a lot of attention is being paid to the increased militarization of our police forces, and rightfully so. There’s no reason that local law enforcement teams need mine-resistant behemoths to patrol the mean streets of Mayberry, BFE. That is unless their primary goal is to make the Average Joe shit his pants or a zombie apocalypse survivalist feel all tingly in his Army-surplus briefs whenever they cross paths with this menacing machine.
But as much hubbub that militarized police forces are getting, not as much attention is being paid to the increased prisonization of our public schools and the increased criminalization of juvenile behavior.
Thanks to Columbine and Sandy Hook and countless other shootings, schools now bear an eerie similarity to prisons. The freedom that I and many of you experienced in our grade school years is gone, seemingly forever. There are name badges, metal detectors, bulletproof glass entryways, and an overall sense that once a student enters a school, they are trapped there, for their own safety of course.
And then there are the guards, I mean, human resource officers. Their job: to serve, protect, and, far too often, arrest students who otherwise are engaged in the type of behavior that in the past would have resulted in detention or a suspension. A hallway brawl is now a criminal assault, a butter knife is a weapon, cold medicine is an illicit drug, a pic posted on Twitter at home is a hate crime, and childhood itself is a crime.
But while I normally fall on the side of the students and not schools when it comes to these matters, I have to admit the recent suspension of three West Ashley students has me vexed.
Perhaps you’ve heard about it, but yesterday Charleston police where called to Advanced Studies Magnet to discuss what was more or less a stick up, albeit one pulled off by three 12-year-olds armed with a BB gun (The latter two points may be irrelevant).
According to a police report, this is how the matter unfolded:
While walking across the bridge in between Pinecrest Apartments to school, [the two victims] were approached by three black males, all who attend ASMW. The victims stated that the guys told them to stop. Once they stopped they noticed that Suspect No. 1 was holding a gun. Suspect No. 1 told them to not move, put their hands up or he would shoot them. Victims stated that Suspect No. 1 told them to say, “I’m your daddy.” Both victims stated that they were very afraid and did everything the suspect told them to do. Suspects told the Victims if they told anyone, they would shoot them.
Victims stated it was after the Suspect finished threatening them that Suspect No. 1 told them that the gun was just a BB gun.
Victims state that Suspect No. 2 recorded the entire incident on his cell phone and threaten[ed] to put [the] incident up on social media. Suspect No. 3 stood and watched the entire incident and then took the gun and put it in his book bag. Victims stated that all Suspects walked away laughing and went to school.
The next day, the parents of the two victims met with police and school administration to discuss the matter. According to Charleston police, both parties declined to press charges, and so the three individuals were not sent to juvenile court. However, they were suspended from school, with the Charleston County School District maintaining that the three suspects’ violated the district’s code of conduct.
If you’re like me, the school’s stance probably strikes you as kinda odd. I mean, the incident did not take place on school property, whether school grounds or a bus, and it did not happen at a school-sanctioned event. Instead, it happened while five students were on their way to school. Now ignore that absolute terror these three 12-year-old inflicted on two others, doesn’t it bother you that the school’s reach has been extended to our sidewalks, our streets, and our neighborhoods?
By and large, schools have been allowed to get away with this overreach of power because they have maintained that activity that occurs off campus may disturb normal school activity and if it does the school is free to treat it the same as if it happened at school. What a bunch of convoluted horse shit.
This is the first time, CCSD has dropped a stinker. You may remember another recent case of district overreach involving a School of the Arts student who tweeted an internet meme-inspired pic from her home that a fellow classmate found racially offensive and threatening, even though no threats were actually made or implied. Ultimately, the tweeter was suspended from school for five days.
Of course, none of that is meant to minimize the fear experienced by these two young students who were held at gunpoint by what they thought was a real gun. That’s a fright that they will have difficulty overcoming. And it’s not an argument against punishing the three suspects, even though they are only 12 years old. It’s just that it’s not the school’s place to do it.