Hawaii School, Police Department On The Verge Of Being Sued For Arresting A Ten-Year-Old Girl Over A Drawing
from the getting-the-most-oppression-bang-for-your-tax-buck dept
Putting cops in schools is never a good idea. It only encourages school administrators to hand over discipline problems to the “proper authorities,” which is what administrators used to be until the addition of law enforcement on campus.
Having cops on tap also appears to encourage parents to demand a law enforcement response to disciplinary problems. That’s what happened at a school in Hawaii, where a 10-year-old student was arrested over a drawing another student’s parent didn’t like. The school — and the police department that performed the arrest — are on the verge of being sued by the student and the ACLU.
On the morning of January 10, 2020, a parent complained to school officials about a sketch N.B. and other students had drawn in response to another student bullying N.B. The parent unreasonably insisted that school officials call the police.
After arriving on school grounds, police interrogated 10-year-old N.B., handcuffed her with excessive force, arrested her without probable cause, and transported her to the police station—all without letting N.B. see or speak with her mother. The police and school officials took these traumatizing actions despite the fact that N.B. was cooperative and did not pose any danger to any person or herself—and without accommodating N.B.’s disability, which was documented with the school.
The demand letter [PDF] from the ACLU goes into greater detail about the incident, including police officers keeping N.B.’s mother, Tamara Taylor, from speaking to her daughter until after the 10-year-old had been cuffed and transported to the police station. The school did not notify Ms. Taylor that her daughter was being questioned by police and made no effort to ensure the student had any counsel (legal or otherwise) advocating for her or ensuring her rights weren’t violated.
Everyone involved in this acted like it was out of their hands, an inevitable series of events stemming from one parent’s complaint.
On January 10, 2020, Ms. Taylor received a phone call from Honowai Elementary Vice Principal, Ms. Terri Runge, at 8:42 am about N.B. being in a dispute with another student. N.B. had allegedly participated in drawing an offensive sketch of a student in response to that student bullying her. Ms. Runge asked Ms. Taylor to come to the school, because “they are thinking about calling the police.” Ms. Taylor implored Ms. Runge to not do so and told her she would be shortly on her way.
A Honowai staff member and Honolulu Police Officer Ford greeted Ms. Taylor when she arrived at Honowai Elementary and took her to the school office. Officer Ford then began explaining his presence at school by saying that “some parents take things out of proportion and make things bigger than what they are,” apparently referring to the parent who had insisted that the police be called that day.
Here’s an inadvertent demonstration of how terrible law enforcement officers are at de-escalation. Rather than seek a resolution that didn’t involve use of force, the officers acted like it was beyond their power to placate an angry parent without arresting a pre-teen over a drawing.
And we are still talking about a drawing — one that targeted a student who had been bullying N.B. The drawing was apparently a collaborative effort with other students. N.B. did not want the drawing shown to the alleged bully, but another student decided to bring it to their attention. The “target” of the drawing was apparently unmoved by it. Neither were their parents. It was the parent of another child that had seen the drawing that had contacted the school and “asked the school to call 911 on N.B.”
Meanwhile, as N.B. continued to be separated from her mother by police officers, everyone with the power to shut this down shrugged around the place bemoaning the apparent impossibility of the situation.
A female officer then entered the room and stated that the parent was going to press charges. Ms. Taylor then asked what the charges were for, explained that she would also stand behind her daughter, and that she did not understand what was going on. Instead of answering these questions, Officer Ford stated that he is a father to an 11-year-old and he did not understand why the parent was acting the way she was acting about the situation. The female officer stated that she has a 7- year-old and did not understand either. Vice Principal Runge appeared and described the complainant parent as being “difficult” and that she had never seen a parent act in such way.
No one could understand why a parent could act this way. Well, maybe the parent acted this way because they knew school administrators and police officers could be weaponized this way. So, instead of anyone stepping up to shut this down, N.B. and her mother found themselves surrounded by a bunch of people with a lot of power claiming they were powerless to do anything but what one parent demanded.
When Ms. Taylor asked why they had called the police when she had specifically asked that they not do so, Ms. Runge responded: “Well, it’s the parent’s right if she wants us to call the police for her.” When Ms. Taylor pushed back, arguing that the school had the discretion not to call the police, Ms. Runge simply reiterated that it was the parent’s right to ask the school to do so.
Yes, the parents have that right. And Ms. Taylor is right, the school has the discretion to reject their requests. No one felt like exercising their discretion that day. So, Taylor’s daughter was cuffed, put in a police car, and taken to the PD for processing.
Then there’s the racial element. Statements were made by administrators and officers that suggest they would have handled this differently if N.B. wasn’t black.
Officer Ford confided to Ms. Taylor that they thought it was best for her not to see N.B. because they did not want Ms. Taylor to “beat [N.B.] at the school.”
Ms. Taylor also expressed dismay about being forced to stay in the room, to which Ms. Runge explained that they had to stop Ms. Taylor because they saw “fire in her eyes.”
Ms. Runge also explained that she had prevented Ms. Taylor from leaving the room that day because she was concerned that Ms. Taylor would get arrested for intervening and attacking the other parent or the police.
A bunch of powerful people violated rights because they were too powerless to deny a parent’s demand for police involvement and too afraid of what an Angry Black Woman might do if allowed to see her child or confront another parent, despite both Ms. Taylor and her child being fully cooperative during this string of rights violations.
The end result was this:
Even assuming the complaining parent wanted to press charges—and assuming there were valid charges that could be brought against N.B.—N.B. could have easily been surrendered to her mother who was at the school. No one else involved in the drawing incident was arrested or interrogated. No charges were ever brought against N.B., who as a ten year old did not intend to commit a crime with a drawing she did not draw alone and did not even want to deliver. N.B.’s detention and false arrest without probable cause violated her rights to be free from unreasonable seizures under the Hawai?i and U.S. Constitutions.
Ms. Taylor and N.B. were singled out because of their race, both perceived and treated as “more dangerous,” less rational, and less worthy of respect for their rights than the non-Black students and parents involved.
Right now, the ACLU and Taylor are only demanding a raft of changes to school and PD policy when it comes to detaining, questioning, and arresting minors. They’re also demanding $500,000 in damages. That demand will presumably increase if the city and PD decide they’d rather defend themselves in court rather than make some common sense changes to policy and put another $500k on the taxpayers’ tab.
This all could have been avoided if any one of these very powerful people had actually used their power wisely and deployed the discretion they so often claim is necessary to prevent outcomes like this. If this parent really felt police should be involved, they should have made that call themselves. Instead, they chose to weaponize two bureaucracies to achieve their ends: the punishment of a 10-year-old for offending them with a drawing.