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Public schooling

One of the worst things about so-called public education, i.e. government-controlled schooling, is that students are forced into an institution that they consistently find unpleasant and boring, whether or not the individual student thinks that it’s worth the trouble. That fact, combined with the fact that the victims are all young and many of them are poor or black or otherwise marked as at-risk youth in need of special surveillance and control, naturally and systematically corrupts the way that the school relates to its students. It leads administrators and political decision-makers to focus on restraining the unruly behavior of the coerced students, by making authority, control, security, and discipline top priorities. In practice this means monitoring, intimidation, and coercion. These facts in turn result in attitudes and institutional practices throughout State schools that are often hard to distinguish from those prevailing in a prison camp.

Here are three stories that have come out, just over the course of the past week, about the practices of administrators and uniformed thugs in American public schools. In particular, they are about three separate cases in which one or the other set out to maintain control over their school by physically brutalizing or sexually humiliating young women.

The first case, from Arizona, happened four years ago. It’s in the news today because the famously liberal Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of appeals recently ruled that Safford Middle School officials were within the bounds of their legitimate authority when they forced a strip-search on a 13 year old girl — because a couple of student snitches claimed that she had some unauthorized ibuprofen on her, and the Authorities had to know for sure:

Safford Middle School officials did not violate the civil rights of a 13-year-old Safford girl when they forced her to disrobe and expose her breasts and pubic area four years ago while looking for a drug, according to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

The justices voted 2-1 in favor of the Safford School District on Sept. 21. The decision upheld a federal district court’s summary judgement that Safford Middle School Vice Principal Kerry Wilson, school nurse Peggy Schwallier and administrative assistant Helen Romero did not violate the girl’s Fourth Amendment rights on Oct. 8, 2003, when they subjected her to a strip search in an effort to find Ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug sold over the counter and in prescription strengths.

The girl’s mother filed a federal law suit against the district and Middle School officials because they forced her daughter to strip down to her underwear then move her bra and panties in such a way that her breasts and pubic area were exposed. The mother also asserts that she was not notified of the impending search.

In the opinion written by Judge Richard Clifton, Based on the information available to them, defendants (Safford School District, Wilson, Schwallier and Romero) had reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search of (the girl’s) person would turn up evidence that (the girl) had violated or was violating either the law or the rules of the school.

Clifton wrote that Wilson and the others had reasonable grounds for believing the girl had Ibuprofen based on conversations with two other students.

The other students said the girl possessed Ibuprofen and had distributed the drug to others, according to the court report.

— Diane Saunders, Eastern Arizona Courier (2007-09-26): Court rules school officials acted properly in strip search

The second case is from New York, where — in order to enforce a blanket no-bags policy putatively adopted for the students own health and safety — a member of the school goon squad decided that it was O.K. for him, an adult male ex-cop, to pull 14 year old girls carrying purses out of class and interrogate them about their menstrual cycles:

Grahamsville — Several television news crews from New York City are camped outside the Tri-Valley Central School following the story in today’s Times Herald-Record about what question a school security guard asked a 14-year-old female student.

The girl was called out of class by a security guard during a school sweep last week to make sure no kids had backpacks or other banned bags.

Samantha Martin had a small purse with her that day.

That’s why the security guard, ex-Monticello cop Mike Bunce, asked her The Question.

She says he told her she couldn’t have a purse unless she had her period. Then he asked, Do you have your period?

Samantha was mortified.

She says she thought, Oh, my God. Get away from me. But instead of answering, she just walked back into class.

At home, she cried, and told her mother what happened.

It appears that at least a few other girls were also asked the same question.

On Sept. 21, Martin and other girls were called to the office of Principal Robert Worden. Lisa Raymond, the assistant superintendent for business, was also there, Martin said.

They just asked me what he (Bunce) said. I told them, and they said thanks for coming, she said.

The small Sullivan County school has been in an uproar for the last week. Girls have worn tampons on their clothes in protest, and purses made out of tampon boxes. Some boys wore maxi-pads stuck to their shirts in support.

After hearing that someone might have been suspended for the protest, freshman Hannah Lindquist, 14, went to talk to Worden. She wore her protest necklace, an OB tampon box on a piece of yarn. She said Worden confiscated it, talked to her about the code of conduct and the backpack rule — and told her she was now part of the problem.

Tri-Valley Superintendent Nancy George, who has refused to meet with any reporters today, yestedar said that when Worden, Bunce and another staffer did the bag check, they were telling students to put the bags in their lockers. The administration is investigating whether they said anything more to some girls.

I have had some parents talk to me personally, and they gave me the names of some students who were asked, she said. We’re certainly not going to make light of this. It’s a very sensitive issue, but it needs to be handled. Parents with more information should call her directly, she added.

Raymond and Worden failed to return calls yesterday for comment. Bunce was not working yesterday, and his home phone number is unlisted.

Bunce was forced to retire from the Monticello Police Department in 2002 after he and the former chief were caught running their process-serving business on village time.

School board President Lori Mickelson declined comment.

The school banned backpacks in the halls this year for two reasons, George said: Student health, because heavy bags could hurt the kids’ backs or people could trip on them; and for security concerns, felt nationwide, about concealed weapons.

— Heather Yakin, Times Herald-Record (2007-09-28): The Question’ causes furor at local high school

Clearly the Authorities concerns about small purses and their contribution teenagers’ back problems outweigh minor considerations like the dignity and sexual privacy of 14 year old girls.

The third case comes from Palmdale, California, near Los Angeles, where a member of the school goon squad slammed Pleajhai Mervin, a young black woman at Knight High School, down on a table, twisted her arm behind her back, and broke her wrist — after she refused to follow his bellowed orders to make a fourth try at cleaning up the last bits of a slice of cake that she had accidentally spilled on the lunchroom floor. According to Mervin, the uniformed thug yelled hold still nappy head at her during the course of the attack. The fifteen-year-old young woman was then ticketed for littering, expelled from school, and arrested for battery against the beefy uniformed security thug who was breaking her wrist while other security goons hovered around. Two other black students — a 14 year old boy and his 16 year old sister — were tackled, held down, shoved around, handcuffed, and arrested for daring to film what was going on using their cell phone cameras.

School security guards in Palmdale, CA have been caught on camera assaulting a 16-year-old girl and breaking her arm after she spilled some cake during lunch and left some crumbs on the floor after cleaning it up.

… The girl, Pleajhai Mervin, told Fox News LA that she was bumped while queuing for lunch and dropped the cake. After being ordered to clean it up and then re-clean the spot three times, she attempted to leave the area out of embarrassment but was jumped on by security who forced her onto a table, breaking her wrist in the process.

Steve Watson, InfoWars (2007-09-28): School Guards Break Child’s Arm And Arrest Her For Dropping Cake

Mervin says a security guard slammed her against a table at a lunchroom at the high school and twisted her arms behind her back so violently, he broke her wrist. Her wrist is in a cast.

He put my arm behind my back and he started raising it until it hurt, so I told him, Stop, it hurts. He had slammed me on the table and told me to hold still. He called me a nappy-head, and that’s when I just started crying, said Mervin.

Mervin claims she was roughed up simply because she failed to pick up every crumb of a birthday cake she accidentally dropped on the floor of the lunchroom during a lunch-hour birthday celebration for a friend. She says she thought she cleaned up the mess, but the security guard thought otherwise.

He said, You have to come pick the rest of this cake up. So I said, I picked it up. He gets on his walkie-talkie, he got a call, so I just started walking to class, and that’s when he grabbed me, said Mervin.

Mervin says when the security guard realized he was being videotaped, he tackled the student shooting the video. She says another student captured photographs of that incident. She says the whole incident was unnecessary.

Leo Stallworth, KABC Los Angeles (2007-09-26): High School Security Guards Accused of Excessive Force

One security guard twisted the arm of 16-year-old Pleajhai Mervin behind her back and slammed her against a lunch table, fracturing her wrist, parents said.

I want justice, said Mervin’s mother, Latrisha Majors, who also was arrested. I want justice for my daughter. I want the guards to be held accountable for their actions.

Majors and her daughter were arrested in the Sept. 18 lunchtime incident, along with Joshua Lockett, 14, who videotaped the fight, and his sister, Kenngela Lockett, 16, who also suffered a fractured wrist.

Both Mervin and Kenngela Lockett attended the protest with their arms in slings.

Joshua Lockett, who was on probation for robbery, remained in juvenile custody on suspicion of violating his probation, sheriff’s deputies said.

We come to get an education, not to be hurt by security guards, said Kenngela, who said she tried to pull guards off her brother and was hurt while being handcuffed.

One guard, whose name has not been publicly released, has been placed on leave with pay pending an investigation by the Antelope Valley Union High School District. Attempts to reach the guard were not successful.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies said the guard told them he felt threatened by Mervin.

There was resistance by her, Sgt. Darrel Brown said. He went to control her.

— Karen Maeshiro, LA Daily News (2007-09-29): Rally protests security guard acts.

Mainstream media sources such as the Los Angeles Times, KABC in Los Angeles, KSN (a local NBC affiliate), and the LA Daily News have repeatedly described what happened as a tussle … between a security guard and three students, as a scuffle with security guards, a melee with security guards, mayhem, etc. This apparently is what passes for accurate description of a professional uniformed security goon battering two high school girls and a fourteen-year-old boy, while he’s backed up by another security goon hovering around the area and clearly outweighs all of his victims. You can watch part of Joshua Lockett’s video of the scuffle at MyFox Los Angeles (2007-09-26) and MyFox Los Angeles (2007-09-28).

Oh No A WoC PhD (2007-09-30) has a YouTube montage of more photos and videos from this so-called melee, and also the contact information for school and city officials.

(Stories thanks to feministing 2007-10-01, Women of Color Blog 2007-09-30, Oh No a WoC PhD 2007-09-30, The Superfluous Man 2007-09-28, Radley Balko 2007-09-28, feministing 2007-09-28, and Majikthise 2007-09-28.)

State schooling, institutional racism, blanket zero-tolerance policies, and increasing police and security presence in schools have ensured that many if not most American schools are no longer primarily places of learning. They are guarded institutions whose primary focus is on command and control.

Further reading:

Law and Orders: UCLA campus police “found it necessary” to repeatedly taser an Iranian student already lying helpless on the ground

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies, and they routinely hurt people who are not posing any serious threat to anyone, in order to make sure that they stay in control of the situation. They have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves; or pregnant women possibly guilty of a minor traffic violation, if they get tired enough of being talked back to and if their bellowed orders are no longer sufficient to end an argument–even without any plausible reason whatsoever for fearing any physical threat to themselves or others. When they are caught in the act police administrators will wring their hands, make up some lies to try to excuse the assault, promise an investigation, find that Official Procedures were followed, and then do nothing at all, except perhaps question the decision to arm the pigs with tasers (as if the equipment were the issue here). This is a cellphone video of what happened to UCLA student Mostafa Tabatabainejad when he refused to show identification to campus police and then demanded that they not touch him while he left the library.

(Link and story via Brian Doherty @ Reason Hit and Run 2006-11-16.)

Here is the story from The Los Angeles Times:

The latest in a recent spate of cellphone videos documenting questionable arrest tactics surfaced Wednesday, this one showing a UCLA police officer using a Taser to stun a student who allegedly refused to leave the campus library.

Grainy video of the Tuesday night incident at UCLA’s Powell Library was broadcast Wednesday on TV news and the Internet, prompting a review of the officers’ actions and outrage among students at the Westwood campus.

The footage showed the student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, falling to the ground and crying out in pain as officers stunned him.

According to a campus police report, the incident began when community service officers, who serve as guards at the library, began their nightly routine of checking to make sure everyone using the library after 11 p.m. is a student or otherwise authorized to be there.

Campus officials said the long-standing policy was adopted to ensure students’ safety.

When Tabatabainejad, 23, refused to provide his ID to the community service officer, the officer told him he would have to show it or leave the library, the report said.

After repeated requests, the officer left and returned with campus police, who asked Tabatabainejad to leave multiple times, according to a statement by the UCLA Police Department.

He continued to refuse, the statement said. As the officers attempted to escort him out, he went limp and continued to refuse to cooperate with officers or leave the building.

Witnesses disputed that account, saying that when campus police arrived, Tabatabainejad had begun to walk toward the door with his backpack. When an officer approached him and grabbed his arm, the witnesses said, Tabatabainejad told the officer to let go, yelling Get off me several times.

Tabatabainejad encouraged library patrons to join his resistance, police said. The officers deemed it necessary to use the Taser.

Officers stunned Tabatabainejad, causing him to fall to the floor.

The video shows Tabatabainejad yelling, Here’s your Patriot Act, here’s your … abuse of power, the Daily Bruin reported, adding he used a profanity.

It was beyond grotesque, said UCLA graduate David Remesnitsky of Los Angeles, who witnessed the incident. By the end they took him over the stairs, lifted him up and Tasered him on his rear end. It seemed like it was inappropriately placed. The Tasering was so unnecessary and they just kept doing it.

Campus police confirmed that Tabatabainejad was stunned multiple times.

By then, Remesnitsky said, a crowd of 50 or 60 had gathered and were shouting at the officers to stop and demanding their names and badge numbers.

Remesnitsky said officers told him to leave or he would be Tasered.

Tabatabainejad declined to comment. He was arrested Tuesday night and cited by campus police for resisting and obstructing a police officer and was released.

The incident was the third videotape of an arrest to surface in the last week in Los Angeles.

One video showed a Los Angeles Police Department officer dousing a handcuffed suspect in the face with pepper spray as the suspect sat in a patrol car.

That video came to light Monday, just days after the LAPD and the FBI launched investigations into another videotape showing a police officer hitting a suspect in the face several times after a foot chase in Hollywood.

UCLA Assistant Police Chief Jeff Young said Wednesday that he had viewed the video of the campus incident on the Internet and would view any other videos that were shot.

We will gather as many samples as we can find, from different sources, Young said. We’ll use it for our own administrative investigation.

— Amanda Covarrubias and Stuart Silverstein, Los Angeles Times (2006-11-16): A third incident, a new video

Here is the campus police’s military necessity justification for repeatedly electrifying an unarmed man already lying on the ground and offering no physical resistance, let alone physical threat, to the armed and uniformed gang of peace officers surrounding him:

Tabatabainejab encouraged library patrons to join his resistance. A crowd gathering around the officers and Tabatebainejad’s continued resistance made it urgent to remove Tabatabainejad from the area. The officers deemed it necessary to use the Taser in a drive stun capacity.

— University of California Police Department (2006-11-15): Powell Library Incident

The Powell Library is university property, and authorized agents of the university have every right to force out someone who does not use the library according to the policies set by the university. What they have no right to do is to carry out those aims by repeatedly using powerful electric shocks to immobilize a helpless man with pain, over and over again, when he is already lying on the ground, solely in order to keep control of the situation or to ensure students’ safety when the students themselves feel far more threatened by the belligerent and violent police. Whether or not they found it necessary to torture Tabatabainejab with electric shocks in order to accomplish those things is quite irrelevant. As Edmund Burke once wrote,

To prove, that these Sort of policed Societies are a Violation offered to Nature, and a Constraint upon the human Mind, it needs only to look upon the sanguinary Measures, and Instruments of Violence which are every where used to support them. Let us take a Review of the Dungeons, Whips, Chains, Racks, Gibbets, with which every Society is abundantly stored, by which hundreds of Victims are annually offered up to support a dozen or two in Pride and Madness, and Millions in an abject Servitude, and Dependence. There was a Time, when I looked with a reverential Awe on these Mysteries of Policy; but Age, Experience, and Philosophy have rent the Veil; and I view this Sanctum Sanctorum, at least, without any enthusiastick Admiration. I acknowledge indeed, the Necessity of such a Proceeding in such Institutions; but I must have a very mean Opinion of Institutions where such Proceedings are necessary.

— Edmund Burke (1757): Vindication of Natural Society

There are three things about the video that are just terrible to watch and to hear. The first is the obvious one: Tabatabainejad screaming in pain and writhing on the floor as cops assault him again and again. But the second is just as awful: the crowd of 50 or 60 students, outraged at the police’s ongoing assault, and doing nothing about it other than yelling at the cops and indignantly demanding their badge numbers–apparently in the fantastical belief that a The Law is somehow going to protect them from violence at the hands of its own rampaging hired goons. The third are the comments from the bare-fanged sadists who inevitably came along, as they come along in every case like this one, to add remarks like this:

if you don’t cooperate you get tazed. it’s very simple to understand.

— trappednAZ, in replies to YouTube (2006-11-16): UCLA Student Tasered by UCLA Police for not showing ID

Or this:

I have a medical condition! Hahaha, so good. Damn that was funny. If you don’t wanna get tasered, then don’t a dick to the police. They’re just doing their job.

— symonwill, in replies to YouTube (2006-11-16): UCLA Student Tasered by UCLA Police for not showing ID

Or this:

This is why you dont scream like a 5 year old at police when they tell you to do something. The guy wouldnt comply with anything the police were saying. He deserved it. This shouldnt even be an issue.

— c17h25n, in replies to YouTube (2006-11-16): UCLA Student Tasered by UCLA Police for not showing ID

Did you know that if a college student has a bad attitude towards armed strangers giving him orders, that justifies the cops using violence, up to and including hitting him with immobilizing electric shocks, over and over again, while he lies on the ground, in response? Apparently in the world of authoritarian creeps and bureaucratic sociopaths, it does.

Further reading:

Peace Officers

(Thanks to Marian Douglas for shining light on this.)

We already knew that Florida cops were willing to electrify a 6 year old boy and a 12 year old girl with a 50,000 volt blast from a taser. The 6 year old was distraught and threatening to hurt himself (after all, why hurt yourself when you can have a cop immobilize you with pain?); the 12 year old’s crime was playing hooky and maybe being a little tipsy, and the incredibly dangerous imminent threat she posed was that she ran away from the cop and so might have been able to skip school. Back when it happened, I mentioned that the main reaction from the police brass was to review the decision to equip cops with tasers–as if the equipment were the primary problem here. I also mentioned that we might be better served by scrutinizing the paramilitary police culture that we have, in which peace officers are trained to take control of every situation at all times, by any means necessary, and where any notion of proportionality between the possible harm and the violence used to maintain control is routinely chucked out the window in the name of law and order and winning the war on crime.

I hate being proven right.

It doesn’t take fancy electric tasers for Florida cops to be overbearing, brutal assholes. They can do it the old-fashioned way: for example, by sending three adult officers to pin a five year old girl’s arms behind her back and handcuff her.

A lawyer has threatened to sue police officers who handcuffed an allegedly uncontrollable five-year-old after she acted up at a Florida kindergarten.

The officers were called by the school after a teacher and assistant principal failed to calm down the little girl.

The incident was caught on a video camera which was rolling in the classroom as part of a self-improvement exercise at the St Petersburg school.

A lawyer for the girl’s mother said the episode was ncomprehensible.

The video, made public by the lawyer this week, shows the unfolding of the violent tantrum, which started when the little girl refused to take part in a maths lesson.

She then ripped some papers off a bulletin board and lashed out at staff trying to calm her down.

After calling her mother and learning she would not be able to pick up the child for at least one more hour, the teachers resorted to calling the police.

Three officers rushed to the scene and handcuffed the girl, by that time apparently calm, after pinning her arms behind her back.

The footage showed her in distress after being handcuffed.

— BBC 2005-04-23: U.S. police handcuff five-year-old

One of the minor consolations of subjecting schoolchildren to a school police state is that the surveillance has left a video record of the handcuffing.

So a kindergardner is uncontrollable and this justifies calling the cops, and then (even though she wasn’t doing anything anymore, just in case she got any ideas) hand-cuffing her as she screams.

By the way, this is not the first time that this has happened

Trayvon McRae is 6 years old.

After throwing a tantrum in music class, and kicking and hitting a St. Petersburg police officer who was taking him home, this kindergartener was handcuffed and arrested on a charge of battery on a law enforcement officer. Both of his wrists fit neatly into a single cuff.

Mikey Rao was 8 when he got arrested.

He didn’t want to go to the principal’s office, so he ran out of his class and kicked and scratched a teacher’s aide. He spent several hours in the Citrus County Jail.

Demetri Starks turned 9 last week.

One day this summer, when he was still 8, he swiped a neighbor’s jar of change. Police stopped the 60-pound St. Petersburg boy wearing a T-shirt covered with monsters from the cartoon Digimon. They handcuffed him and sent him to a detention center where he stayed locked up for nine days.

— St. Petersburg Times 2000-12-17: Under 12, Under Arrest

Hell, it’s not even the only time that it’s happened recently.

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.

— Wendy McElroy 2005-02-10: On Handcuffed and Felonious Children

(Just in case you Blue Staters were thinking about getting smug about those barbarians down yonder in Florida, you might also be interested to know about the California cops who beat the shit out of a non-verbal autistic teenager who didn’t follow their orders–using bludgeons, a taser, and pepper spray.)

photo: Two cops hunker down with tactical gear and assault rifles

Hello, we’re the cops, and we’re here to keep you safe!

The cops, of course, continue to treat these cases as a P.R. management problem, not a public safety problem created by out-of-control cops. That’s because the cops aren’t out of control; they are doing what cops normally do in our society; we only know about it here because the victims were vulnerable enough that their caretakers were able to get the attention of the newsmedia and the civil courts. We are not talking about a few bad apples here; we are talking about a systematic feature of policing in our society. We’re not talking about something that a bit of administrative hand-wringing and P.R. management and tinkering with equipment will solve. Police brutality, especially police brutality against unruly Black people, ain’t exactly new. This is what happens when the means of defense are almost entirely in the hands of a professionalized paramilitary force. You get an institutional culture of command-and-control. You get unaccountable peace officers who go on a rampage when their orders are questioned, and who apparently don’t have any principled inhibitions about using force on people that is wildly out of proportion to any possible threat. (Restraint can especially go out the window if they are Black. Or if they are otherwise thought to be unlikely to get sympathetic attention from the courts.)

So just remember, Johnny: the cops are here to keep you safe. By hurting you for no reason when you pose absolutely no threat to anyone.

Further reading

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