North Carolina Legislators Push Bill That Would Prevent Cops, Prosecutors From Charging Six-Year-Olds For Picking Flowers
from the yeah-i've-never-seen-all-those-words-in-that-order-before-either dept
This is today’s law enforcement. While there are multiple societal and criminal problems that deserve full-time attention, our tax dollars are paying cops to turn our children into criminals. We don’t have the luxury of pretending this isn’t happening. Schools have welcomed cops into their confines, turning routine disciplinary problems into police matters.
While there may be some schools plagued by actual violent criminal activity, the stories that most often rise to the surface are those that involve violence by (uniformed) adults being inflicted on children. And I don’t just mean legal minors — a group that usually involves anyone under the age of 18. We’re talking actual kids.
Here’s a brief rundown of some notable cases involving “school resource officers, ” a term that suggests these cops aren’t actually just cops, but rather an integral part of the school disciplinary system. But when SROs deal with children, they treat children just like they treat hardened criminals.
This is a post about cops in schools I put together back in 2013. In this one, students were arrested for engaging in a water balloon fight, a 14-year-old was arrested for wearing an NRA shirt, and a DC cop gave a 10-year-old a concussion for ditching out on his music class. That’s the tip of the ugly iceberg covered in this post.
But let’s look at a few more incidents.
– Cops arrested a 12-year-old for pointing “finger guns” at classmates.
– Cops strip searched an 8-year-old while “investigating” feces found on a school bathroom floor.
– Orlando (FL) police officers arrested a six-year-old, zip tying her hands. One cop said the child looked like an “infant.” The arresting officer was later fired for not asking permission to arrest someone under the age of 12.
– A five-year-old was hogtied by an SRO for allegedly “battering” a school employee.
That’s how we’ve chosen to run schools in this nation. Students are just grist for the “criminal justice” mill when cops are involved. Problems better handled by administrators and parents are turned over to government employees with guns and a toolset that turns every misbehaving student into a criminal on the verge of becoming hardened.
But that’s only the entry point. Cuffing elementary school kids and hauling them off to face criminal charges is only the beginning. This dumps them into a system that is inclined to believe cops and view accused persons — no matter their age — as items to be processed and disposed of.
This report for the Winston-Salem (NC) Journal shows what happens once cops are done turning misbehaving students into criminal defendants. If you think this nation won’t tolerate criminal court proceedings involving kindergarten students, well… you just don’t know what we’re capable of.
The 6-year-old dangled his legs above the floor as he sat at the table with his defense attorney, before a North Carolina judge.
He was accused of picking a tulip from a yard at his bus stop, his attorney Julie Boyer said, and he was on trial in juvenile court for injury to real property.
The boy’s attention span was too short to follow the proceedings, Boyer said, so she handed him crayons and a coloring book.
“I asked him to color a picture,” she said, “so he did.”
That’s just the beginning of the report: a case involving a picked flower and a six-year-old who had no idea what the criminal justice system was willing to do to him. In child porn cases, minors are considered unable to give consent to the sexual acts perpetrated upon them. But during criminal proceedings against minors, we’re apparently supposed to believe minors know the intricacies of local ordinances and only violate them with the intent of committing criminal acts.
Sure, the NC Juvenile Justice Division may require parents to take part in court proceedings against their children, but it also apparently expects children to defend themselves against criminal charges — something they’re obviously incapable of doing. Hiring a lawyer helps but, as can be seen by this case, it doesn’t prevent courts from following through with the ridiculous motions of, say, prosecuting a six-year-old for picking a flower.
Things might change in North Carolina, though. The Juvenile Justice division has offered its support of legislation that would raise the minimum age for criminal prosecution to 10. The Justice division would actually like to see it raised to 14, but state legislators seem unwilling to protect prepubescents from the machinations of a justice system that relies heavily on plea deals and — despite stating otherwise — tends to view accused people as guilty.
Then there’s the other problem, which probably can’t be fixed with legislation. The juvenile “justice” system plays favorites, starting with the law enforcement agency performing the arrest.
From 2015 through 2018 nearly 7,300 complaints were filed against children age 6 to 11 years old, according to numbers from the state Juvenile Justice section.
Of those complaints, 47% were against Black children, 40% were against white children and 7% against Hispanic or Latino children.
In general, 22% of the state’s population is Black, 70% is white and 10% is Hispanic.
That’s how it works in North Carolina. White kids are usually taken to their parents. Minority kids are fed to the system. And the poorer you are, the worse it is. Courts punish kids and parents who are unable to attend hearings or court-ordered programs due to a lack of reliable transportation or conflicts with work schedules. For wealthy residents, court cases involving their kids are a mild inconvenience. For everyone else, they’re capable of disrupting lives, ending employment, and saddling families with the stigma of criminal convictions. And all for doing nothing more than picking a flower at a bus stop.
Fortunately for parents, judges are willing to exercise the discretion law enforcement agencies and prosecutors won’t. The child who picked a tulip had his case dismissed once the judge got to see the facts of the case. But even this dismissal meant his parents had to ensure their child appeared in court and had legal representation.
Legal defenders of children point out this isn’t the only time prosecutors have been willing to throw the book at minors legally (and mentally) incapable of defending themselves against criminal charges.
Others cases have involved young children who have broken windows at a construction site with older friends and stood on a chair and thrown a pencil at a teacher, attorneys said. Another case involved sexual exploration with another child, attorneys said.
One of Mitchell’s youngest clients was a 9-year-old with autism whose response to a teacher resulted in him being found guilty of assault on a government official.
Even if the state legislature manages to raise the age to 10, North Carolina will still be one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to accusing children of criminal acts. Only 12 states still set the minimum for prosecutions at ten. Most go higher. Some don’t specify an age at all, apparently believing prosecutors are capable of exercising discretion. But, for years, North Carolina scraped along the bottom, allowing prosecutions against children as young as six years of age. That law was passed in 1979, but there’s nothing on record that indicates why legislators thought justice would be better served by running kids this young through the system.
Then there’s the schools, which are as least as culpable as any of the other government participants in the prosecution of children barely old enough to attend school.
Most of the complaints for kids under 12 come from schools, according to Juvenile Justice data.
From 2015 to 2018, 87% of the complaints against 6-year-olds and 58% of the complaints against 10-year-olds were from schools.
If administrators can’t figure out how to effectively discipline their newest additions to their rosters without involving people with guns and prosecutors who wouldn’t know discretion if it raided their house and arrested their children, then it definitely needs to be addressed with legislation that alters the contours of these judgment calls. Administrators have failed to exercise good judgment. So have the prosecutors who have relied on similarly logic-free cops to feed them underage defendants.
With any luck, the law will pass and we’ll only be subjected to horror stories about kids over the age of ten being prosecuted for throwing pencils or picking flowers or whatever. Unfortunately, mindset can’t be legislated. And, as long as administrators would rather throw children to the uniformed wolves for minor infractions, the justice system will never find itself running low on pre-teen defendants.