On Handcuffed and Felonious Children
FOX News, Florida, U.S.A., Thursday, February 10, 2005, By Wendy McElroy
What should have been a minor incident at an Ocala, Fla., elementary school has attracted national attention because of the school's response.
Two boys, aged 9 and 10, were charged with second-degree felonies and taken away in handcuffs by the police because they drew stick figures depicting violence against a third student.
There was no act of violence, no weaponry. According to news reports, the arrested children had no prior history of threatening the student depicted in the drawing. The parents were not advised or consulted. The school's immediate response was to call the police and level charges "of making a written threat to kill or harm another person."
The incident was not an aberration but one of three similar occurrences in the Florida school system during the same week. In another case, a 6-year-old was led away in handcuffs by police. And those three incidents are only the ones that managed to attract media attention.
Another indication that the incident is not an aberration: The police have adamantly and repeatedly defended the slapping of cuffs and felony charges onto the 9 and 10-year-olds.
Arresting young children for a crayon drawing, not unlike the games of hangman we once all played, is the ultimate meaning and logic of Zero Tolerance.
Zero tolerance involves the application of law in an extreme and uncompromising manner to any activity violent or not that is deemed to be anti-social.
It applies to everyone, regardless of circumstances such as age, intent or prior history.
Zero tolerance has spread through society largely due to the reasonable fear with which people have responded to the school shootings at Columbine (search) and the still-stunning tragedy of Sept. 11. The fear is reasonable. But the ongoing response is not.
No one not the police, not the government, no school official has the right to brutalize a child for using crayons. And the people who reasonably supported zero tolerance as a way to make schools safer never envisioned a police state in which 6-year-olds are handcuffed.
Parents are finally saying "NO!"
The battle against zero tolerance is being waged on the local and state level. One such local battlefield is in Katy, Texas. One such parent is Derek Hoggett. His 13-year-old daughter Gabrielle was suspended from school due to a butter knife packed in her lunch. Because of braces, Gabrielle needed the knife a legal item to cut an apple. No violence nor threat occurred.
Hoggett explained, "She was given the harshest punishment for a first offense even though school officials admitted in a letter that she was a student with exemplary behavior and high academic standing."
Gabrielle's school district has reportedly investigated "2,149 criminal incidents, issued 779 citations and made 108 arrests" in the past several months.
Because of the avalanche of investigations, Fred Hink a spokesman for the