North Carolina Legislators Push Bill That Would Prevent Cops, Prosecutors From Charging Six-Year-Olds For Picking Flowers

from the yeah-i've-never-seen-all-those-words-in-that-order-before-either dept

This is today's law enforcement. While there are multiple societal and criminal problems that deserve full-time attention, our tax dollars are paying cops to turn our children into criminals. We don't have the luxury of pretending this isn't happening. Schools have welcomed cops into their confines, turning routine disciplinary problems into police matters.

While there may be some schools plagued by actual violent criminal activity, the stories that most often rise to the surface are those that involve violence by (uniformed) adults being inflicted on children. And I don't just mean legal minors -- a group that usually involves anyone under the age of 18. We're talking actual kids.

Here's a brief rundown of some notable cases involving "school resource officers, " a term that suggests these cops aren't actually just cops, but rather an integral part of the school disciplinary system. But when SROs deal with children, they treat children just like they treat hardened criminals.

This is a post about cops in schools I put together back in 2013. In this one, students were arrested for engaging in a water balloon fight, a 14-year-old was arrested for wearing an NRA shirt, and a DC cop gave a 10-year-old a concussion for ditching out on his music class. That's the tip of the ugly iceberg covered in this post.

But let's look at a few more incidents.

- Cops arrested a 12-year-old for pointing "finger guns" at classmates.

- Cops strip searched an 8-year-old while "investigating" feces found on a school bathroom floor.

- Orlando (FL) police officers arrested a six-year-old, zip tying her hands. One cop said the child looked like an "infant." The arresting officer was later fired for not asking permission to arrest someone under the age of 12.

- A five-year-old was hogtied by an SRO for allegedly "battering" a school employee.

That's how we've chosen to run schools in this nation. Students are just grist for the "criminal justice" mill when cops are involved. Problems better handled by administrators and parents are turned over to government employees with guns and a toolset that turns every misbehaving student into a criminal on the verge of becoming hardened.

But that's only the entry point. Cuffing elementary school kids and hauling them off to face criminal charges is only the beginning. This dumps them into a system that is inclined to believe cops and view accused persons -- no matter their age -- as items to be processed and disposed of.

This report for the Winston-Salem (NC) Journal shows what happens once cops are done turning misbehaving students into criminal defendants. If you think this nation won't tolerate criminal court proceedings involving kindergarten students, well… you just don't know what we're capable of.

The 6-year-old dangled his legs above the floor as he sat at the table with his defense attorney, before a North Carolina judge.

He was accused of picking a tulip from a yard at his bus stop, his attorney Julie Boyer said, and he was on trial in juvenile court for injury to real property.

The boy's attention span was too short to follow the proceedings, Boyer said, so she handed him crayons and a coloring book.

"I asked him to color a picture," she said, "so he did."

That's just the beginning of the report: a case involving a picked flower and a six-year-old who had no idea what the criminal justice system was willing to do to him. In child porn cases, minors are considered unable to give consent to the sexual acts perpetrated upon them. But during criminal proceedings against minors, we're apparently supposed to believe minors know the intricacies of local ordinances and only violate them with the intent of committing criminal acts.

Sure, the NC Juvenile Justice Division may require parents to take part in court proceedings against their children, but it also apparently expects children to defend themselves against criminal charges -- something they're obviously incapable of doing. Hiring a lawyer helps but, as can be seen by this case, it doesn't prevent courts from following through with the ridiculous motions of, say, prosecuting a six-year-old for picking a flower.

Things might change in North Carolina, though. The Juvenile Justice division has offered its support of legislation that would raise the minimum age for criminal prosecution to 10. The Justice division would actually like to see it raised to 14, but state legislators seem unwilling to protect prepubescents from the machinations of a justice system that relies heavily on plea deals and -- despite stating otherwise -- tends to view accused people as guilty.

Then there's the other problem, which probably can't be fixed with legislation. The juvenile "justice" system plays favorites, starting with the law enforcement agency performing the arrest.

From 2015 through 2018 nearly 7,300 complaints were filed against children age 6 to 11 years old, according to numbers from the state Juvenile Justice section.

Of those complaints, 47% were against Black children, 40% were against white children and 7% against Hispanic or Latino children.

In general, 22% of the state's population is Black, 70% is white and 10% is Hispanic.

That's how it works in North Carolina. White kids are usually taken to their parents. Minority kids are fed to the system. And the poorer you are, the worse it is. Courts punish kids and parents who are unable to attend hearings or court-ordered programs due to a lack of reliable transportation or conflicts with work schedules. For wealthy residents, court cases involving their kids are a mild inconvenience. For everyone else, they're capable of disrupting lives, ending employment, and saddling families with the stigma of criminal convictions. And all for doing nothing more than picking a flower at a bus stop.

Fortunately for parents, judges are willing to exercise the discretion law enforcement agencies and prosecutors won't. The child who picked a tulip had his case dismissed once the judge got to see the facts of the case. But even this dismissal meant his parents had to ensure their child appeared in court and had legal representation.

Legal defenders of children point out this isn't the only time prosecutors have been willing to throw the book at minors legally (and mentally) incapable of defending themselves against criminal charges.

Others cases have involved young children who have broken windows at a construction site with older friends and stood on a chair and thrown a pencil at a teacher, attorneys said. Another case involved sexual exploration with another child, attorneys said.

One of Mitchell's youngest clients was a 9-year-old with autism whose response to a teacher resulted in him being found guilty of assault on a government official.

Even if the state legislature manages to raise the age to 10, North Carolina will still be one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to accusing children of criminal acts. Only 12 states still set the minimum for prosecutions at ten. Most go higher. Some don't specify an age at all, apparently believing prosecutors are capable of exercising discretion. But, for years, North Carolina scraped along the bottom, allowing prosecutions against children as young as six years of age. That law was passed in 1979, but there's nothing on record that indicates why legislators thought justice would be better served by running kids this young through the system.

Then there's the schools, which are as least as culpable as any of the other government participants in the prosecution of children barely old enough to attend school.

Most of the complaints for kids under 12 come from schools, according to Juvenile Justice data.

From 2015 to 2018, 87% of the complaints against 6-year-olds and 58% of the complaints against 10-year-olds were from schools.

If administrators can't figure out how to effectively discipline their newest additions to their rosters without involving people with guns and prosecutors who wouldn't know discretion if it raided their house and arrested their children, then it definitely needs to be addressed with legislation that alters the contours of these judgment calls. Administrators have failed to exercise good judgment. So have the prosecutors who have relied on similarly logic-free cops to feed them underage defendants.

With any luck, the law will pass and we'll only be subjected to horror stories about kids over the age of ten being prosecuted for throwing pencils or picking flowers or whatever. Unfortunately, mindset can't be legislated. And, as long as administrators would rather throw children to the uniformed wolves for minor infractions, the justice system will never find itself running low on pre-teen defendants.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: arresting children, children, north carolina, picking flowers, police, school resource officers, schools


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 23 Mar 2021 @ 12:36pm

    The bully who filed a criminal complaint about a 6 year old child picking a tulip needs to be told to grow up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 Mar 2021 @ 1:43pm

    Cops don't know strip searching someone of the opposite sex on the side of the road isn't violating the law.... we demand a 6 yr old knows not to pick a tulip.

    Courts holding 6 yr olds to higher standard than cops.
    Maybe they just got confused, I mean cops to whine like children when their feels get hurt...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 23 Mar 2021 @ 2:11pm

    While the prosecutor had to be excused to go potty, the judge was busy playing on his tablet and the bailiff informed the court he had be home by 5 for dindin.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 3:44am

    With prisons (and probation and diversionary programs, etc) being such a cash cow for the law enforcement / prison / industrial complex, is it any wonder that we see these continued efforts to take control of the human supply chain further and further upstream?

    Next up: Baby cries too loudly in the neonatal ICU and out springs a cop with a pair of tiny tie-wrap handcuffs to whisk the baby off to kiddy kangaroo kourt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 7:10am

      Re:

      What the FUCK about this article describes "continued efforts to take control of the human supply chain further and further upstream"?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Upstream (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 8:51am

        Re: Re:

        Uhmm, the whole article.

        The article is entirely about cops and prosecutors (and schools) involving ever younger children in the criminal legal system, a system from which there is really almost no escape.

        People are the raw materials that feed the system. Younger children = further up the supply chain.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    me, 24 Mar 2021 @ 5:09am

    The obvious solution

    Is to get the Police out of the schools, they clearly have not the training to be involved in Education. Every referenced case in this article is pathetic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 7:24am

    Parents should be responsible for any real discretions by their kids at that age..
    I think the trouble here goes a ways beyond just the fact that kids can be targeted by lawsuits like this all the way to the government is helicopter parenting the adults they can't solve minor problems and disagreements amongst each other anymore without going to court

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 9:05am

    Parents have to take some responsibility for children’s actions until the children are of a responsible age (barring mental disabilities).
    Parents should be parent(S) [married father & mother in the same house], and police their own kids.
    Police should police adults. Police can’t be expected to have the span of capacity to be able to both physically fight and overcome an adult, as well as correctly (without harm) subdue a small child. Children need to be guided primarily by 2 groups, their parents & their teachers, but disciplined primarily by their own parents. So many dropped balls...so little time...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 3:03pm

      Re:

      Jesus fuck what?

      Yeah i agree parenting is a thing that should be done, but it is irrelevant. It's also harder to do since the politicians and corporations fucked us hard in the 80s, while Reagan went on his "nuclear Family" bullshit at the same time. Shitty wages, no more pensions - even the ones that used to exist were stolen. Give us reasonable wages and more time to actually, you know, parent.

      As for cops, fuck 'em, and fuck your narrative.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zach, 25 Mar 2021 @ 4:52am

    Wake up, people. North Carolina is supremely screwed up. The cops. The justice system. The school system. Its all just appalling. Totally disgusting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.