The New York Sun—reacting, apparently, to a popular groundswell that somehow escaped my attention—once again urged Michael Bloomberg to make an independent run at the White House in its January 30 issue: “[H]e may yet be the best standard bearer of what we think of as the New York Idea . . . dynamism, open-ness, and the logic of capitalism and freedom,” the Sun‘s editorialists wrote.
Supposing that he is still tempted by a presidential run, we should take him at his word: “Being a mayor, you have to be explicit in what you stand for. You have to be accountable,” he has said.
OK, let’s hold him accountable. Bloomberg will tout the national plaudits and awards that he and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have received for reforming New York’s school system. What he’s far less apt to mention, however, is the way he’s allowed Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and the NYPD to treat students and even teachers as if—as one middle-school student puts it—”we’re on Rikers Island.”
Last April, 13-year-old Chelsea Fraser was arrested and handcuffed by New York’s Finest, in front of her classmates at the Dyker Heights Intermediate School, for writing “okay” on her school desk. She was charged with criminal mischief and writing graffiti. It took three hours for her mother to get to see the perpetrator at the precinct.
This year, on January 24, five-year-old Dennis Rivera, a kindergarten student at P.S. 81 in Queens who suffers from attention-deficit disorder, speech problems, and asthma, had his hands cuffed by a so-called “school safety agent”—behind his back, with metal restraints—and then was sent to Elmhurst Medical Center for evaluation after throwing a tantrum. (The SSAs are hired and trained by the NYPD and have the authority to arrest.) Released from the psych ward after four hours, the four-foot-three, 68-pound suspect has had nightmares ever since and insists that he doesn’t want to go back to school. Chancellor Klein found the shackling of this supposed malefactor “troubling,” but I’ve seen no further statement of accountability from him. And Bloomberg, that embodiment of the “New York Idea,” has also been silent.
Previously, on January 15, two NYPD officers, seeing what they took to be unruly kids on a school bus, handcuffed 10-year-old Imecca Burton, who has attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia. “I thought,” she said, “half my life would be gone.” Adds her mother, Taneisha Pearson: “She’s only 10, and now she’s afraid of police and she’s afraid to go outside.”
These actions by the ever-vigilant guardians of our security got space in the Daily News and the Post. But no connections were made—except by the New York Civil Liberties Union—to a much more disturbing system of official lawlessness in the schools that has been created by the Bloomberg-Klein-Kelly gang of police and their school safety agents.
Said the NYCLU’s executive director, Donna Lieberman, on January 25: “This should be a wake-up call to the mayor, the City Council, and the Department of Education. There is a crisis in our schools. . . . [S]ince school discipline has been turned over to the NYPD, behavior problems have turned into criminal matters and youth of color—and children with disabilities—are paying the price.”
In March 2007, the NYCLU—after receiving many complaints about the hooliganish behavior of the police and SSAs, about which Chancellor Klein has been inexcusably silent—issued a meticulously documented report, “Criminalizing the Classroom: the Over-Policing of New York City Schools.” In the Voice, I wrote two indictments last year based on that report and my own research: “Schoolyard Bullies” (June 27) and “The Mayor and His Shock Troops” (July 3).
The New York City Council knows full well about this transmogrification of parts of the city’s school system into a juvenile penal colony. On October 10, 2007, Donna Lieberman testified before the council’s Education, Juvenile Justice, and Public Safety committees about some of the overpolicing reports that the NYCLU has been receiving from students and faculty.
So far, these three City Council committees have yet to summon the mayor, the police commissioner, or the schools chancellor to testify about this wholly irresponsible educational malpractice.
This is what Donna Lieberman told the members of those three committees: “We received one report involving teachers [at the New School for Arts and Sciences] who had called a local precinct to ask for assistance in breaking up a fight. By the time the police arrived, the fight was resolved and the situation was calm.
“But the police arrived at the school with the swagger and aggressiveness of street thugs. They began yelling at the children and directing profanity at both students and teachers. When one teacher asked the police not to curse at the children, the cops threatened him with arrest. And when a second teacher rallied in support of the first teacher, the police arrested both teachers and paraded them out of the school in handcuffs. . . .
“We [also] heard of a school principal who was arrested for objecting when a school safety agent entered a classroom to arrest a student in a circumstance where the arrest was not required by an exigent circumstance.” The school was East Side Community High School; principal Mark Federmen’s grievous offense was to tell the police to use the back door rather than the front to take the miscreant out.
Donna Lieberman’s entirely rational response: “This incident demonstrates the urgent need for oversight of police practices in the schools.”
In “Criminalizing the Classroom,” the NYCLU gave a much-needed educational lesson to Bloomberg, Kelly, and Klein: “In the Los Angeles United School District, the Miami-Dade Public Schools, and the Clark County School District in Nevada—respectively, the second, fourth and sixth largest school districts in the country—the school police departments report to and are supervised by educators. . . .
“New York is alone [among America’s largest school districts] in placing schools personnel [the NYPD and its SSAs] who are neither responsible to the educational bureaucracy nor specifically trained to ‘educate, counsel and protect our school communities.’ ” (Emphasis added).
Next week: What can, should, and must be done to rein in the Bloomberg-Klein-Kelly gang, as spelled out in the NYCLU’s School Safety Act, which was submitted by the NYCLU and a consortium of local and national organizations to the City Council last October.
As yet, there have been no hearings on this acutely needed legislation, because no member of the City Council has introduced it. Is the people’s voice, Christine Quinn, no longer the formidable Speaker of the Council?