America, stop treating black kids like criminals
When 6-year-old Kaia Rolle, a black kindergartener at Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy, had a tantrum in class last week, Orlando police officer Dennis Turner came and escorted the child out of school in handcuffs. Then he took her to the police station, fingerprinted her and booked her for misdemeanor battery because she had hit two school faculty members during her outburst. When Turner took Rolle’s mugshot, he had to get her a stool – she was too small for the camera otherwise – and then she waited at the police station for her family, who had only been notified of Rolle’s arrest hours after the fact.
Turner has since been fired. Nonetheless, it should have never gotten that far to begin with. Turner, a veteran of the local police force, had faced numerous domestic violence and stalking charges prior, as well as a litany of complaints alleging excessive force. It is deplorable that Rolle’s teachers and the principal did not even try to protect her from a power-hungry officer, nor did they have the decency to notify her family in a timely fashion so that they could accompany Rolle to the police station. Instead, she endured this entirely alone.
Rolle’s arrest is symptomatic of a larger problem of police in schools. Studies from the Department of Education have shown that children of color are more likely to be arrested by school police officers than their peers. This is America: Black children, especially those from low-income households, are not protected by their schools, police, the judicial system or politicians. They are set up to be sent from their schools to prisons. This is because America does not see black children as children.
Perhaps if Turner or Rolle’s teachers had treated her like a child instead of a criminal, they would have learned she has sleep apnea, a condition which causes severe tiredness and irritability, especially in children. Instead, Rolle became one of many black children victimized by a racist, punitive system, much like 14-year-old George Junius Stinney, Jr., a South Carolina student who was wrongfully convicted by an all-white jury of murdering two white girls in 1944, and who would become the youngest person in United States history to be executed by the state in a case of capital punishment. There was also Trayvon Martin, 17, a teenager walking through his Florida neighborhood who was gunned down by self-appointed community watchman George Zimmerman in 2012. A jury failed to convict Zimmerman on any charges, because they believed this armed adult murdered an unarmed black child in “self-defense.” There was 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by Ohio police for playing with a toy gun in 2014. There were the Exonerated Five – formerly known as the Central Park Five – who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989 and spent over a decade in prison as a result.
There are many more black children who have been incarcerated or killed at the hands of those who view them as vicious criminals. There will be many more black children who will lose their lives if there is not a major shift in American culture.
Rolle will have to live with the scarring memory of being humiliated in front of her classmates and treated like a criminal. Additionally, this child now has a criminal record for acting like a child. Even though Turner is black himself, he works within a system that views all black people, regardless of age, as criminals.
The irrational fear of black people is perpetuated by the portrayal of black people in the media and political propaganda for as long as this country has existed. This fear enables people working in courtrooms, police departments, prisons and any institution to take matters into their own hands and punish black children for being black, consequently stripping them of their childhoods, so that white Americans can feel safer. Moreover, it causes tragic cases like Rolle’s to occur more often and fuels the dehumanization of black children.
White Americans: Please check yourself on your inherent racism so that black lives are spared.
America: Please do better in protecting black children. They are our future, too.
Vanessa Chouest is a senior anthropology major with a minor in business marketing.