Was There No Better Way? Cops Cuff 6-Year-Old After Throwing Tantrum

April 18, 2012  |  

A Milledgeville, Georgia, police chief is defending the handcuffing of a kindergartner last Friday as a necessary safety measure after she threw a tantrum in school.

According to a police report, 6-year-old Salecia Johnson  had a tantrum at her Creekside Elementary School that involved tearing items off the walls and throwing books and toys. A small shelf thrown by the girl reportedly struck the principal in the leg during the ruckus and Salecia is also said to have jumped on a paper shredder and attempted to break a glass frame. The school called police to handle the outburst and when an officer tried to calm the girl in the principal’s office, police say she resisted; therefore:

She “was restrained by placing her hands behind her back and handcuffed,” the report states.

A juvenile complaint was filed, accusing the girl of simple battery and damage to property and interim Police Chief Dray Swicord said it’s the police department’s policy to handcuff people when they are taken to the police station, regardless of their age.

According to Salecia’s aunt, Candace Ruff, when she and the girl’s mother went to pick her up, she was in a holding cell and complained about the handcuffs, saying they were really tight and hurt her wrists.

“She was so shaken up when we went there to pick her up,” Ruff said.

The police chief denied the claim and said the girl was taken to the police department’s squad room and not a holding cell, and that officers there tried to calm her and gave her a Coke.

Because of her actions, Salecia has been suspended from school and is not allowed to return again until August. Now the family is pushing for Georgia to change it’s handcuffing policy so that another child doesn’t endure the same treatment.

“We would not like to see this happen to another child, because it’s horrifying. It’s devastating,” Ruff told The Associated Press.

This isn’t the first instance of a young minor being cuffed for acting out in school, and the recent event is dredging up a nationwide debate on whether there is a better way to handle situations like this. Darrel Stephens, a former Charlotte, NC, police chief and executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, told the Grio:

“I have had some concern for a while that the schools have relied a little too heavily on police officers to handle disciplinary problems.”

Shannon Kennedy, a civil rights attorney who has filed a class-action lawsuit against Albuquerque’s public school district and its police department, echoed that same sentiment, saying, “Kids are being arrested for being kids.”

Her suit was filed on behalf of hundreds of kids arrested for minor offenses over the past few years, including having cellphones in class, destroying a history book, and inflating a condom. One popular story that has made headlines is the case of a 13-year-old boy in Albuquerque who was reportedly arrested for burping in gym class.

While the lines have gotten so blurred that teachers trying to discipline students in school often want to rely on higher authorities to handle behavioral problems for threat of parent retaliation, locking kids up for silly things doesn’t send the right message. There has to be a better way to establish discipline among parents and school authorities without always looking to police.

What do you think about Salecia’s arrest and this general trend of handcuffing young kids for offenses in school?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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