Bloomberg's Schools: Is This America?

The handcuffing of a seven-year-old suggests that something is very wrong in New York City

This chancellor, supposedly infinitely more qualified for this job than the hapless Cathie Black, got a response he deserves from this terrified seven-year-old’s mother. Said Jessica Anderson: “He was crying and saying, ‘I want Mommy.’ Why handcuff him? Why get the cops involved? He’s only seven. . . .”

When she finally got to see her son and found he was in handcuffs, “I was crying,” she said. “I broke down. They know that my son is special ed. It’s like trying to get rid of him, and it worked because I’m not sending him back there.”

What did the NYPD have to say? “He was acting in a threatening manner. He was a danger to himself and others in the classroom. He started spitting and cursing at the officers. The handcuffs were used to restrain the child because of his behavior. He was a danger to himself.”

Having reported often in the Voice on a considerable number of cases in which the School Safety Agents not only cuffed but beat young kids—though witnesses said they weren’t threatening anybody—I am, to say the least, skeptical of this police defense of their putting these kids in a perp walk through the school.

Joseph’s mother was later told by a spokesperson for the school that her son, scared, did jump up on a table, shouting, “I just want my mommy!”

In this report, Kolodner quoted Kim Sweet of this city’s Advocates for Children: “I’ve seen far too many cases of kids this young handcuffed and thrown into ambulances for behavior at school. Just imagine being a little kid and having people come, clamp your hands behind your back, and throw you in an ambulance.”

Hey, Mayor Mike, can you imagine this? Give it a try. Let us know how it felt, even in imagination. And I would be grateful for any detailed, documented accounts of other school kids being handcuffed. Parents and appalled teachers (there are a good many) can write to me at the Voice.

I got to know well a Supreme Court Justice, William Brennan, who was attentive to official abuse of students in our schools. In Doe v. Renfrow (1981), 13-year-old Diane Doe (not her real last name because she was a minor) had been strip-searched during a dragnet police search for drugs in her school. No student was under particular suspicion. This was a general warrantless search, like British officers so often did when we were colonists.

Before she was strip-searched, police-trained German shepherds had pushed their noses and muzzles into Diane’s legs. No drugs were found on her by them or when she was strip-searched. This is still going on at some schools in this alleged constitutional republic.

Diane’s case was thrown out by a district judge and then dismissed by the Supreme Court. Brennan dissented, telling me, “I was really mad.”

He called what happened to Diane “a violation of human decency.” Thinking of what seven-year-old Joe Mitchell learned about human decency in New York City’s public schools, I remembered what Justice Brennan warned after Diane’s experience: “Schools cannot expect students to learn the lessons of good citizenship when the school authorities themselves disregard the fundamental principles underpinning our constitutional freedoms.”

If we ever have real-life classes in civics in this city’s schools, Chancellor Walcott should come in and show the students the basis for how handcuffing seven-year-olds (a five-year-old has also been handcuffed) can be found in our Constitution. My next monthly column: The Brennan Center for Justice’s report card on New York’s civic literacy. It’s not only about Ray Kelly’s educators in our schools, and some of you adults may be embarrassed.

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