Poisonous Police Behavior
By BOB HERBERT
You most likely have no idea of the abusive treatment that students and teachers at many of New York City’s public schools are enduring at the hands of overly aggressive police officers and security aides assigned to the schools.
Students are being belittled, shouted at, cursed at, intrusively searched and improperly touched by cops and security aides who answer to the Police Department, not school authorities. In many cases, the students are roughed up, handcuffed, arrested and taken off to jail for behavior that does not even begin to approach the criminal. Teachers and administrators who have attempted to intervene on the behalf of students have themselves been abused, and in some cases arrested.
This poisonous police behavior is an extension into the schools of the humiliating treatment cops have long been doling out to youngsters — especially those who are black or Latino — on the city’s streets.
In January, a 15-year-old girl at Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn was manhandled for no discernible reason by an armed police sergeant. The sergeant had grabbed her book bag and ordered her into a school detention room. When the girl replied, “That’s where I’m going,” the sergeant is alleged to have pushed her. The girl then said she was going to take down his name and badge number.
When she said that, according to a new study of police practices in the public schools by the American Civil Liberties Union, the sergeant jerked the girl’s left arm behind her back at a painful angle. The girl’s right hand slammed against a wall and she began to cry.
Students inside the room cried out in protest, but to no avail. The girl was taken to the police station and given a summons. That night the school’s assistant principal called the girl’s home and apologized to her mother for the incident.
One morning last fall a large contingent of police officers arrived unannounced at Wadleigh, a high school for the performing arts in Harlem, to do a spot check for weapons by herding students through portable metal detectors. One of the students, the vice president of the school government association, was afraid his cellphone would be confiscated so he called his mother and asked her to come get it. He waited outside the school for her to arrive.
When police officers approached him, he explained that his mother was coming to meet him and would be there in just a few minutes. The police, according to the report, called him a smart-aleck, seized his cellphone, handcuffed him, took him to the local stationhouse and put him in jail.
Unaware that her son had been arrested, the mother was frantic when she couldn’t find him at the school. The charges against the boy were later dropped.
There is nothing unusual about this type of activity. A math teacher at the Urban Assembly Academy of History and Citizenship rushed outside the school one day last fall when he heard that a student was being assaulted. He saw a police officer slam a boy against a car. Explaining that the boy was his student, the teacher said, “He’s just a kid.”
According to the report, the police officer then hit and shoved the teacher. People in a group that had gathered cried out: “He’s a teacher! He’s a teacher!”
A second officer reportedly grabbed the teacher from behind and threw him onto the sidewalk. The teacher’s head bounced against the pavement. While on the ground, the teacher was handcuffed as students and school staffers looked on. He was arrested and taken off to jail.
The report, a must-read for anyone interested in the reality of public school life in New York, is titled “Criminalizing the Classroom” and was released jointly by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Racial Justice Program of the national A.C.L.U.
“Girls,” the report said, “are particularly targeted for intrusive searches. Girls whose underwire bras set off metal detectors must lift up their shirts so (security aides) can verify that they are not concealing metal objects. Many girls reported that officers ordered them to unbuckle and/or unzip their pants for the purpose of verifying that the students were not concealing cellphones.”
There is no excuse whatever for this systematic mistreatment of New York City students. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is in charge of the school system, and he and Commissioner Ray Kelly run the Police Department. Parents across the city should demand that they step in and bring this cruel madness to an end.