Written by Mark Ames
…A Week After 25 High Schoolers Arrested For Food Fight
File this under Seriously Fucked Up: While most of America has been hiding under the covers afraid they might have to confront the ghost of Joe Stack, shooing him away by pretending he was something elseHe was a Tea Bagger!/He was a liberal!/No he was a psychopath!anything to avoid seriously talking about how profound and how widely popular his suicide-dive-bombing washeres a story thats a little easier to chew on. It comes to you live from Kiddie Land, where theres a war on pitting thousands of police and the full force of the law Surging against pre-pubescent doodlers, food-throwers, and tardy students.
Earlier this month, at a New York junior high school, a 12-year-old girl named Alexa Gonzalez pulled out a green magic marker during class, and doodled, I love my friends Abby and Faith. The teacher sent her to the principle, who promptly called the Zero Tolerance police. The next thing Alexa knew, New York Citys finest burst into the principles office, pulled the girls arms behind her back, cuffed her, and frog-marched across the quad, so that all her fellow students and teachers could see her bawling her eyes out on her way to the police station. Thatll teach her.
Alexa is a much better person for it, as reported on CNN:
They put the handcuffs on me, and I couldnt believe it, Alexa recalled. I didnt want them to see me being handcuffed, thinking Im a bad person.Alexa Gonzalez missed three days of school because of her arrest.
She spent those days throwing up, and it was a challenge to catch up on her homework when she returned to school, she said. Her mother says she had never been in trouble before the doodling incident.
Throwing up and traumatizedsounds kind of like what youd expect from a Guantanamo Bay inmate whos not cooperating. But America isnt in its most imaginativeor smartmood these days, so I guess the thinking is, Works well in Abu Ghraib, why fix somethin that aint broke.
For New York Citys school system, that translates into Surging with an additional 5,000 truancy cops whose job is to root out doodlerists and truants and the like. Unfortunately, with all the budget problems, paying all those copspoorly trained cops, I might addmeans no money left for school counselors, who number just 3,000, or almost half the number of these new counter-doodling cops.
Alexa isnt the first doodler-terrorist theyve neutralized. In 2007, NYC cops arrested a 13-year-old girl, Chelsea Fraser, for doodling Okay on her desk. Within minutes, Operation Zero Tolerance swung into action:
Fraser was arrested at the Dyker Heights Intermediate School on March 30 along with three other male students. She says she was made to empty her pockets and take off her belt. Then she was handcuffed and led out of the school in front of her classmates and placed in the back of a police car.
It was really embarrassing because some of the kids, they talk, and theyre going to label me as a bad kid. But Im really not, Fraser said. I didnt know writing Okay would get me arrested.
All the kids were watching these three boys and my daughter being marched out with four they had four police officers walking them out, handcuffed, [her mother] Silva said. She goes to me, Mommy, these hurt!
[She was] taken to the 68th Precinct station house where Silva says they were separated for three hours. My child is 13-years-old doesnt it stand that Im supposed to be present for any questioning? Silva said. Im watching my daughter, shes handcuffed to the pole. I ask the officer has she been there the entire time? She says, Yes.
The ACLU told CNN about several other doodling-arrests which they are now fighting with a class-action lawsuit. Almost as shocking is the story of a school teacher who was arrested while trying to help one of his students whom the teacher thought was being far too roughly handled. Police arrested the teacher and charged him with assault, although they later dropped those charges.
Thats fine for teachers. But kids cant be shown any mercy, whether were talking about doodling, or food fights. A couple weeks ago in Chicago, police mass-arrested 25 students aged 11-15 following a school cafeteria food fight:
More than two dozen students were slapped with criminal charges in connection with a food fight in the cafeteria at a Chicago charter school.
The next thing you know I saw a tray fly up in the air, and then I saw an orange fly, student Jordan Grevious said. Then, I heard the words food fight.
But instead of Animal House, these kids are facing the Hot House. And they know it:
They fear some of the kids will have a tough time getting a job or applying for college until their misdemeanor reckless-conduct charge disappears from their records. Theyll appear in court Nov. 30.
These kids are going to have records for things that they potentially did not even do, parent Monique Greene complained. Twenty-seven children up here for a food fight.
Even the innocent students will face lasting consequences. If the charges are dropped, juvenile records cant be expunged until the accused becomes 17. Parents are worried this could affect future jobs and college applications.
Its all part of a meatheaded Zero Tolerance campaign used to terrorize school kids all over the country, part of whats making this country a meaner place to grow up in. Zero Tolerance doesnt work, of course. The school shootings in middle-class schools still go on with clockwork regularity, fueled in part by the Zero Tolerance mentality.
Zero Tolerance is worse than a failure; its taking a bad situation and making worse, locking both students into what two studies are calling a Schoolhouse-To-Jailhouse pipeline:
zero-tolerance policies are derailing students from an academic track in schools to a future in the juvenile justice system
this schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track has damaged a generation of children, particularly children of color, by criminalizing trivial offenses and pushing children out of the school system into the juvenile justice system and introducing prison-like secure environments, with drug-sniffing dogs, metal detectors and uniformed law enforcement personnel, thus turning schools into prisons.
And of course, if you feed more and more doodlers and tater-tot tossers into the prison pipeline, that means you produce more and more criminals; and if you create more criminals, well, you gotta do something about all those criminals hitting the streets. Which means: hiring more cops, and training them to attack and pacify any school thats threatenedlike this exercise recently held in Avoca, New York:
Authorities say with school violence on the rise, being prepared for any situation is key.
On Friday, Steuben County law enforcement officers took part of a mock school shooting drill at Avoca High School. The purpose: in case of an emergency, local law enforcement officials in Steuben County want to make sure they are prepared.
When we get there and have an active shooter we cant wait for a SWAT team to come. We cant. We have to go in then and have to know who is going in right or left and how we are going to contain the situation, says Steuben County Sheriff Joel Ordway.
Its so insanely counter-intuitive that it borders on black comedy. Or just bad comedy. But thats how we like doin things round here these days. The more something fails, the more it will be favoredwhether its a bank, a pundit, or a policy on doodling and food fights.
Mark Ames was founder and editor of The eXile, the notorious Moscow-based, English-language newspaper shuttered last year after a raid by Russian authorities. He is the author of two books: The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia (together with Matt Taibbi), and Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagans Workplaces to Clintons Columbine and Beyond.