It’s 11 p.m. on a Friday.
There’s a cocktail party at someone’s home. The music is a bit loud, and one or two guests are tipsy, but nothing serious. The police receive a call or two about a raucous party.
The police arrive and say that the music must be turned down or the party will have to stop. One of the men — let’s call him Harvey — says, “Why, we’re not bothering anyone, officers.”
An officer places his hand on Harvey’s shoulder and reaches for his drink, saying, “I think you’ve had enough.”
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Surprised, Harvey raises his voice. “Wait a minute, officer, we’re not bothering anyone here.” The officer grabs Harvey’s arm, takes his drink, and arrests him for disturbing the peace. Party-goers stand in silence, while a few take out their cell phones.
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One woman intervenes loudly: “Officer, we haven’t broken any laws; I don’t understand.” The officer turns on her: “This party is too loud. More than one complaint. Violation of a noise ordinance. Lady, you are interfering.”
“Wait, what have I done? I just asked a question.” The woman, too, is cuffed in front of friends.
Before you conclude that this is nowhere close to what happened at Spring Valley High School, and could never happen, think again.
The student who was ordered to leave the classroom was “disturbing” the class by not complying, even though she was quiet and not creating a disturbance that kept the teacher from teaching. The student who cried and tried to ask why was also hindering, and arrested. The adults at the fictional party could in fact be disturbing the peace, and hindering police, under state law.
Bad choices, to not immediately comply with police? Certainly. But are these the kinds of behaviors we want to criminalize?
Of course, the adult scenario is not likely to happen. Police are usually diplomatic and respectful, and work to promote good community policing, only intervening when necessary, as dictated by our choices. Many people have been at a party where police have been sent to check things out. Usually, things work fine. But what if they didn’t? We would be no less guilty than Harvey and his defender, as we technically have violated statutes.
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Getting uncomfortable, yet?
Rewind to Spring Valley High School. Folks are calling for the head of the misbehaving student. Many think she got what she deserved; they generalize to other misbehaving students. But no one is condoning the behavior, and reasonable individuals would agree that she needed disciplinary consequences. Peers have agreed she was wrong.
Here is where I part company with those who want to mete out justice by having her arrested and the key thrown away. Law enforcement protects and serves, keeps us safe. Though this student made bad choices, her behavior was not dangerous; it didn’t even impede learning. It was about school discipline, not criminal activity. I predict policy changes across the state — I hope, returning school resource officers to their original duties of crime prevention and positive relationships, and clarifying and strengthening school discipline procedures.
Do we really want to have teens dragged from their school and arrested for such behavior? Be careful. If you’re OK with what happened at Spring Valley, then that adult scenario is acceptable, too.
We know the purpose of law enforcement.
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The job of educators is to teach, to help our children. Sounds like the job of a parent, too. Is anyone OK with your daughter being dragged and thrown across her classroom? Have any of you done what we saw on video to your own children, when they sassed you or said, “no”? Or did we spank, restrict, take cell phones and other privileges and talk about the right thing to do?
We are the adults here. We are the ones who should know better. Let the police use their training in physical restraint and arrest for real safety threats. They shouldn’t have to be saddled with doing our jobs, too.
What did our children learn from this whole sad affair? They saw a defiant teen being a defiant teen. What did they learn from us adults?
Ms. Brandon is a retired Richland 2 school counselor and licensed professional counselor; contact her at email@example.com.