When you read about one story of a child being injured and/or traumatized by police or school resource officers, at least a dozen more pop up. That’s what we discovered this morning after watching a news report from Baltimore about an 11-year-old with autism who broke his wrist while he was handcuffed for 23 minutes in his middle school last year. The horror stories just keep adding up. They’re highlighting a need for parents and officials to continue the conversations that started last summer about removing police from schools.
Jarome Liason had just started middle school in the fall of 2019 when he got into an argument with another kid he said was bullying him, WBAL reports. A school staff member took him out of the classroom and into a “focus” room, where they tried to hold him and prevent him from banging his head on the wall. Then body cam footage from the school resource officer shows him handcuff the crying boy.
Gloria Merritt, Jarome’s aunt and guardian, said she had chosen this school specifically because they were supposed to have the resources to help him.
“You have to have a behavioral plan for autistic children because they act out in different ways than other children,” she told WBAL. We don’t know what that plan was or if the school had attempted to follow it.
“It was terrible,” Merritt said. “They treated him like a criminal, and he’s only an autistic little boy.”
Jarome complained of pain in his wrist during the incident, and doctors later found he had a broken bone in his wrist. Meanwhile, Baltimore County Police and the school system claimed that the officer acted according to their use-of-force policy.
This story comes mere days after footage surfaced of a similar instance in Statesville, N.C., this time involving a 7-year-old boy with autism. That child was kept in handcuffs for 30 minutes as the school resource officer told him he would be charged with assault and sent through the juvenile justice system for spitting. Seriously, we do not recommend watching the video obtained by WSOC.
Shall we continue? Here are just a few more times this has happened in the past couple of years: an 8-year-old boy with special needs in Key West, Fla., a 6-year-old in Orlando, and an 11-year-old in Henderson, N.C. (At this point in my research, I had to take a break from watching if I hoped to be able to pull myself together enough to write this.)
After the death of George Floyd, a number of op-eds, protests, and petitions surfaced demanding that police be removed from schools. Though not all of the incidents mentioned above involved students of color, they are statistically much more likely to be arrested in school. School officials in Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis ended their contracts with the police. But other cities, including New York and Chicago, aren’t budging on their policies to use school resource officers.
The argument in favor of having a police presence — that they make schools safer — is not supported by data. Many wanting to reform the system say that what will really improve students’ safety is putting those resources into mental health professionals and trained social workers. If staff at the schools mentioned above were better trained to de-escalate situations, particularly in the case of special-needs students, it would logically follow that there would be better outcomes for all involved.
Remember just a few months ago when going to Black Lives Matter protests was the “in” thing to do? Think about how to bring that spirit into helping children learn and grow safely. What if these kids didn’t have to learn fear in the place where they’re supposed to be learning about math and literature?
In the meantime, our hearts break for Jarome and his family, as he’s still dealing with the repercussions of last year.
“If we go to Walmart or something like that,” Merritt said, “Jarome stays in the car with my husband because he’s afraid to even walk past a police officer.”
These celebrity parents are leading by example when it comes to talking about race and racism.