( 4UMF NEWS ) First-Graders Handcuffed And Arrested:
Police handcuffed multiple students, ages 6 to 11, at a public elementary school in Murfreesboro on Friday, inspiring public outcry and adding fuel to already heightened tensions between law enforcement and communities of color nationwide.
The arrests at Hobgood Elementary School occurred after the students were accused of not stopping a fight that happened several days earlier off campus. A juvenile center later released the students, but local community members now call for action — police review of the incident and community conversation — and social justice experts across the country use words such as “startling” and “flabbergasted” in response to actions in the case.
Parents and community members sharply criticized the arrests of the students at a church meeting Sunday. The Murfreesboro police chief on Sunday cited the incident as a learning experience, a chance to “make things better so they don’t happen again.” The city manager said Sunday: “If something needs to be corrected, it will be.”
It remains unclear exactly how many children were arrested. State law prohibits the release of juvenile law enforcement records, and police have denied a media request for the information. Murfreesboro police didn’t say what state law the kids violated, but parents of several of the arrested children say the kids were charged with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another,” which according to Tennessee criminal offense code includes incidents when a “person fails to make a reasonable effort to prevent” an offense.
At least five of the 10 children reportedly involved are black. The race of the arresting officers is unknown. Police officials have said they plan to complete a review of the arrest incident within the next 15 days.
At a time of heightened tension in the country between police and the residents of the neighborhoods they protect — particularly minority communities — the incident raises concerns regarding several national issues, including the over-disciplining of kids of color, the criminalization of childhood behaviors and the growing mistrust some residents have with law enforcement.
“It’s unimaginable, unfathomable that authority figures would … do something that has such implications,” said Bishop Joseph Walker III, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Nashville. “When we, as a community, are telling our kids don’t get involved in violence and don’t get in harm’s way, (arresting them for not intervening) is the most amazing paradox of our society — and it is devastating to us.”
Children, by definition, are immature, said Stephanie Bohon, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and the founder of the school’s Center for the Study of Social Justice. It’s appropriate to ground them or give them detention, she said, but “when you deal with that kind of behavior by handcuffing children and running them through the legal system, the first thing they learn is the police are there to punish them, and they are not there to help them.”
Children should be held to a different standard when it comes to accountability, Walker said.
“They don’t have the maturity to understand certain situations,” like when to intervene, he said. And to be arrested for not taking action, “They will be forever scarred because of that.”
More than 150 people, almost entirely African-American, gathered at First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro on Sunday afternoon to discuss the incident. One attendee asked why the charges against the children could not be dismissed.
In addition to angry parents and supporters, Murfreesboro Police Chief Karl Durr and City Manager Rob Lyons were in the crowd. Christopher Williams, the school safety and education officer at Hobgood on the day of the incident, said that the Hobgood administration and office staff “handled the situation as wonderfully and as good as they could have.”
A video was taken of the incident, and officers later obtained arrest warrants for students who did not break up the disturbance, said the Rev. James McCarroll, pastor of First Baptist Church. Information about who took the video and how the police obtained it is not clear.
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