Criminalizing Student Misbehaviour

The recent video of a Manchester, New Hampshire student being violently arrested for what at most could be described as student misbehavior is just another example of the police abusing young people while they are in the care of the government’s school system.  You do not have to be very old to remember a time when it was rare for a school to have a full time police officer roaming the school campus.  Fueled by a media-generated perception that schools are a violent, dangerous place and by the resulting “zero tolerance” policies, this is no longer the case.

If a police officer’s role on school campuses was to provide security from internal or external violence, then their presence would not be so troubling, but instead of being limited to this function, officers are intervening in situations that are better handled by teachers and administrators.  In the past, misbehavior at school would result in a trip to the principal’s office, detention and maybe even a suspension for the most egregious behavior.  Today you are likely, at best, to receive a ticket and a stiff fine for disrupting class, using profanity, or being late for school.  At worst you may end up on the receiving end of a beating at the hands of an armed agent of the state.

A December 2010 report released by Texas Appleseed, a law organization with the mission of promoting justice for all Texans, details the increasing trend of issuing Class C Misdemeanor tickets to students as young as 6 years old.

“Criminalization” of student misbehavior extends to even the youngest students. In Texas, students as young as six have been ticketed at school in the past five years, and it is not uncommon for elementary-school students to be ticketed by school-based law enforcement…The increase in ticketing and arrest of students, in Texas and nationwide, has coincided with the growth in school-based policing. Campus policing is the largest and fastest growing area of law enforcement in Texas, according to its own professional association. With counselors stretched to handle class scheduling and test administration duties, school administrators and teachers are increasingly turning to campus police officers (also known as School Resource Officers or SROs) to handle student behavior problems.

In others words, teachers and school officials have abdicated their responsibility to discipline, or teach right conduct and instead have allowed armed agents of the state to enforce rules by punishment and extortion.  In the Dallas Independent School District alone, over 1,200 Class C Misdemeanor tickets were issued to elementary age children over the course of five years.  These tickets can cost a family as much as $550 dollars.  When Texas Appleseed released its report, Dallas ISD issued a statement saying that “Those who do receive tickets are hopefully learning that their actions have consequences.”    Having a student wash all of the desks in his class if he writes on his desk, is a consequence.  Keeping a student in from recess if he disrupts class is a consequence.  Making a student help the janitors clean the cafeteria for a week if he starts a food fight is a consequence.  Misdemeanor tickets are not consequences that help a child understand right conduct.  They do not teach a child why certain behaviors are wrong.  They are nothing but punishment and not even age appropriate punishment, at that.  Unless a 6-year-old has saved $550 in their piggy bank, my guess is that it is the parents that are forking over the money.

At the 2007 National Association of School Resources Conference, keynote speaker, John Giduck, told the audience,

“You’ve got to be a one-man fighting force…. You’ve got to have enough guns, and ammunition and body armor to stay alive…. You should be walking around in schools every day in complete tactical equipment, with semi-automatic weapons…. You can no longer afford to think of yourselves as peace officers…. You must think of yourself [sic] as soldiers in a war because we’re going to ask you to act like soldiers.”

It is no doubt that this type of mentality that has led to many reports of officers using violence on students.  I have reported before about an eight year old being pepper sprayed, a seven year old being choked while having a seizure, a teenager having his arm broken while attempting to leave school because he felt ill, and of course, the recent video of a Manchester NH student being slammed into a table.  In all these cases the argument centered on whether the amount of force used was excessive.  The question shouldn’t be whether the force was excessive, but rather, why are police officers, absent violence on a student’s part, being used to enforce the administrative rules of the school?  Why is any physical force being used?

Of course there are many who blame the students when they are the victims of violence at the hand of the thugs in blue.  “They need to learn to respect authority,” is the refrain so often repeated.  But my question is, why?  Sure, as adults, you will most likely have to answer to an authority, such as an employer, but that is a voluntary relationship, it is not an imposed authority.  What possible benefit is there to teaching young people to “respect” an authority that has been imposed upon them?   Is it so they will gladly assist in herding people onto cattle cars?  Is it so they will shoot civilians when ordered to do so?  There is simply no reason that “respecting” authority should be seen as a noble virtue that should be taught to young people.  People who think deferment to authority is the only way to achieve widespread right conduct by people that make up a society must themselves be completely devoid of a moral or ethical compass.   Discipline should not be about respecting authority; it should be about respecting people.

I have said it before but it is worth repeating, the embedding of police officers in all government schools is just another symptom of the police state.  What better way to desensitize the masses to the polices’ bad behavior than have them routinely yield to the demands of an armed agent of the government on a daily basis while they are young?


Paula Parmeley Carter

Paula is a Staff Writer at CopBlock. She advocates ending the monopoly on policing and protection services. When not writing at CopBlock she enjoys being a wife and mother, reading and drinking good beer.