Though violent crime rates in the United States and U.K. continue to fall, one would think that the world has become a much more dangerous place if one pays any attention at all to the news. Likewise, the massive amount of media attention generated by school shootings has unfortunately led to policies like the ones highlighted here- policies that led to actions that it seems no sane person would condone.
10. Kiera Wilmot (Conducted a Science Experiment)
In April of 2013, 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot was arrested after causing an explosion on school grounds. If this sounds like another case of how terrible dangerous our schools have become, well, the explosion was relatively minor; okay, it could only be called an explosion in the strictest possible sense of the word. Kiera was conducting a science experiment to see what would happen if she put toilet bowl cleaner together with aluminum foil inside a soda bottle. As you may have suspected, it causes a chemical reaction resulting a small pop- enough to blow off the bottle’s cap. This was apparently enough to catch the attention of school security, who called the police.
Despite there obviously being no ill intent whatsoever and Kiera’s status as a model student, she was summarily expelled from school, arrested and charged with possession and discharge of a weapon- a soda bottle- on school grounds. In an article written for the ACLU’s website, Kiera protests that although the charges were eventually dropped, she’s now forced to attend a school for troubled youths where she’s made fun of, mocked as a “terrorist” and presented with zero academic challenges. As of this writing, an online petition to reverse her expulsion can be found here.
9. Alexa Gonzalez (Scribbled on Her Desk)
Chances are that if you are a human being who has attended school at any point in your life, you may have drawn a doodle or two on school property. Probably your desk, that giant blank slate you were made to sit at every day. Many of us probably even scribbled words or phrases that are not generally appropriate for school age students, but chances are that none of us were ever put in handcuffs and arrested for such an action. Unless Alexa Gonzalez happens to be reading- in 2010, as a 12-year-old middle school student, Alexa was literally arrested and taken down to the precinct in cuffs for writing “I love my friends Abby and Faith” on her desk in erasable ink. Yes, that’s Alexa in the photo above; we’re going out on a limb and saying she doesn’t seem very dangerous.
Her principal called the police on her for the doodle, and her mother got the sad call that Alexa had been arrested for “graffiti”, because this took place in Queens, New York, where kids don’t simply doodle on desks. Although Alexa was initially suspended, that suspension was lifted after the principal determined he “made a mistake”- probably right around the time a civil suit was filed against the school district. Too little, too late- the suit was settled in 2012 for $115,000.
8. Enloe High School Students (Threw Water Balloons)
You may also be familiar with the tradition of the senior prank. Near the end of the 2012-13 school year at Enloe High in Raleigh, North Carolina, seniors lined up to pelt their hapless soon-to-be-former peers with water balloons; this was, of course, an action that necessitated an immediate police response. Well, no, it wasn’t, but that’s what happened anyway.
Even a parent was taken to jail when he took issue with police treatment of a student, which he observed as he arrived to pick up his daughters; Kevin Hines says he saw a student “being lifted up by the neck and taken down hard.” Upon asking to speak with the principal, Hines was told bluntly to leave, threatened with a taser, then arrested.
While many people claiming to be students later posted online that rumors had abounded of water balloons filled with bleach, urine or some other offensive substance, the fact remains that every balloon recovered by police contained water- and it’s not as if they weren’t looking for a reason to justify their actions. All in all, seven students plus Hines were arrested, and legal proceedings are currently ongoing.
7. Michael Pence (Sold Sugar Packets)
Also in 2013, 16-year-old Michael Pence ran afoul of authorities at St. Mary’s Memorial High School. Michael, probably because of his autism and/or common sense, failed to realize the seriousness of the situation when he jokingly offered to sell a fellow student a packet of his “secret sugar rush” formula, which was nothing more than sugar. He never tried to imply that it was anything BUT sugar, and the substance would have been tough to mistake for something other than sugar. In spite of this, Michael was taken to a juvenile detention center on suspicion of trying to sell a “counterfeit controlled substance.”
School officials say this wasn’t the first time they’d had to call the cops because of Michael’s behavior; during a school meeting the previous November, he had been upset and pushed away his father’s hand, brushing his cheek. This was taken by school officials to be an egregious assault, so they of course called the police. Michael was detained for nine days as a result of that incident; as for Michael’s father, he claims that this is part of a pattern of retaliation by school officials over his insistence that they stick to a specialized education plan for his son. So far, no charges have stuck in either incident, perhaps because there was absolutely no criminal behavior involved.
6. Unnamed 13 Year-Old New Mexico Boy (Burped in Class)
Near the start of the school year in 2011, a 13-year-old New Mexico kid- whose name has been withheld by the press- was called in on suspicion of selling pot to another student. School officials’ only reason for believing this, apparently, was the $200 the kid had in his pocket, ready to go shopping for school supplies. When he asked to call his mother, they refused, and made him strip to his underwear in front of five adults. The result? Nothing. No pot, no evidence of any wrongdoing and no charges- including, amazingly, against the school. This incident is not even the main subject of this entry, however.
In late November, the boy’s physical education teacher called police after he made the shrewd determination that the student was “interfering with public education.” How? By “burping audibly” during class. The seventh-grader was hauled off to a juvenile detention center, again without being allowed to contact his parents. Incredibly, the boy’s attorney says that even if a referral to the Justice System were warranted (it’s not), there was no legal reason for the student to be arrested and booked. A lawsuit, of course, is in the works.
5. Perspectives Charter Middle School Students (Waged a Food Fight)
Perspectives Charter Middle School on Chicago’s south side takes academics seriously. Ninety percent of its graduates go on to college, and their record of academic success is hard to argue with. Their disciplinary choices, however, are another matter.
A 2009 incident at the school resulted in the mass arrest of a couple dozen of Perspective’s students, aged 11 to 15. These students were cuffed, taken in paddywagons to the station, booked, fingerprinted and had their mug shots taken; they waited for their parents to pick them up in jail, and went to court for their crimes- the crime of fighting. With food. They had a food fight during lunch.
As if this weren’t already jaw-droppingly excessive, the students were also suspended for two days. Since they were all juveniles, the results of their court appearances were not made public, and no action was taken against the school or the Chicago Police; the school’s director described the incident as “unfortunate,” presumably as part of a valuable lesson on understatement.
4. Kaleb Winston (Wore a Graffiti-Themed Backpack)
In late-2010, officials st Salt Lake City’s West High School brought in the Metro Gang Task Force to do a sweep of the school. Around 40 students, all minorities, were pulled out of class and subjected to prolonged interrogation by task force officers. They were allowed no parental contact, and it’s unclear what criteria were used beyond race to determine which of these kids could possibly be a hardened gang member.
14-year-old Kaleb Winston was one of those kids. Kaleb had never been in a gang, had no criminal record, and had done nothing wrong. Police, however, insist he wasn’t singled out because of his race, but his backpack. It had graffiti markings on it, you see, except Kaleb hadn’t put them there — the designer did. The backpack had been bought, looking just like it did when police decided it meant Kaleb was a gang member, off the shelf at Target.
After an hour-long interrogation, Kaleb was finally allowed to call his mother after being photographed holding up a sign reading, “My name is Kaleb Winston and I am a gang tagger.” He was told that the photo would remain in the police database for two years, and let us reiterate that we are not leaving out any evidence here; Kaleb’s skin color and Target backpack were the smoking guns marking him as a “gang tagger,” whatever that is. Needless to say, lawsuits are cooking against the Salt Lake school district as well as the police.
3. Lindsay Brown (Had a Dull Kitchen Knife in Her Car)
In 2001, 18-year-old National Merit Scholar Lindsay Brown was nearing graduation. One Monday morning, she parked in the school parking lot like always, and went off to attend class; the previous weekend, she had moved some things into a new place. One of those things had made its way out of one of the moving boxes, and onto the floorboard of her car- a kitchen knife. You may see where we’re going with this.
Yes, unbelievably, school officials somehow managed to spot the knife, and young Lindsay was taken from class and spent that entire day in jail on a charge of possession of a weapon- a felony. The principal, telling the local paper “a weapon is a weapon is a weapon” in reference to a butter knife, banned Leslie from school for five days, and also her graduation ceremony. That’s right- she had to receive her diploma in the mail, and couldn’t even watch her friends graduate.
Again, no action was taken against the school or police, who pretty much took the same stance as the principal: “The statute says what she did meets the probable cause requirements for an arrest,” intoned Sheriff Lt. Bill Byrus. Great. We have to wonder just how many lethal butter knife injuries cause by 18-year-old honor students that sheriff’s department has seen.
2. Wilson Reyes (Picked Money up off the Ground)
If you’re expecting this list to get LESS infuriating as it nears the end, we’re sorry. Here we have 7-year-old Wilson Reyes, a New York elementary school student who allegedly picked up and pocketed another student’s $5 bill after it had dropped on the ground. Other sources say he knocked down the other boy (who was older) and perhaps gave him a bloody lip. Perhaps Wilson was in need of some discipline, as he may very well have been displaying bullying behavior. But here’s what happened instead: the 7-year-old was pulled out of class and taken down to the precinct, where the SEVEN-YEAR-OLD was then handcuffed and interrogated by police detectives for TEN HOURS. Did we mention he was 7?
Disregarding the fact that children of this age who bring guns to school are not normally handcuffed and interrogated by adults- because they are children, and therefore don’t exactly know right from wrong 100% of the time- it’s difficult to imagine who made the decision to call the cops on a boy of this age for “assault and robbery.” Or, as put succinctly by New York’s Public Advocate, Bill DeBlasio: “Seven-year-olds don’t belong in handcuffs … as a parent, I wouldn’t stand for this in one of my kids’ schools. Our school system’s over-reliance on the NYPD as a disciplinary tool traumatizes our young people, sows distrust in our communities and drains vital city resources away from responding to genuine crimes. This has to stop.”
As of January 2013, it was announced that the family was considering a healthy lawsuit for an amount with seven zeroes on the end. If that seems like a bit of an overreaction, well, perhaps the Reyes family just enjoys irony.
1. Michael Davis (Threw a Tantrum)
Finally, we have a case out of Stockton, California, wherein a 5-year-old boy named Michael Davis, who has ADHD, had been having trouble with acting out at school. The school invited a police officer to come down and “scare him straight” which didn’t go so well- when the officer put his hand on Michael (it’s not clear why,) Michael pushed his hand away and kicked him in the knee. As a result, Michael was zip-tied at his hands and feet, taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation (all without the knowledge or consent of his parents,) and cited for battery of a police officer.
A juvenile court judge, who presumably had never seen a child this young in his courtroom and had the good sense to know that a 5 year-old is not capable of battery on anything larger than a kitten, dropped the charge. Michael’s mother isn’t filing suit, saying she doesn’t even want an apology, just for the school district to figure out how to address her son’s educational needs, a failing for which they were taken to task in a U.S. Department of Education report on Michael’s situation. We submit that subjecting such a child to this kind of formative experience with authority is not likely to help prevent future problems.