It was, in a sense, so expectable, so leave-no-child-behind. I’m talking about the arming of American schools. Think of it as the next step in the militarization of this country, which follows all-too-logically from developments since September 11, 2001. In the wake of 9/11, police departments nationwide began to militarize in a big way, and the next thing you knew, the police were looking ever less like old-style neighborhood patrollers and ever more like mini-anti-terror armies. The billy club, the simple sidearm? So Old School. So retro.
When it came to weaponry for the new, twenty-first-century version of the police, it was a matter of letting the good times roll: Tasers, flash grenades, pepper spray, incendiary tear gas, Kevlar helmets, assault rifles, bomb-detection robots, armored vehicles and tanks, special-ops-style SWAT teams, drone mini-submarines, drone aircraft, you name it. Today, even school police are being armed with assault rifles. And with it all goes a paramilitary fashion craze that anyone who observed the police in the Occupy moment is most familiar with.
In addition, the U.S. military is now offloading billions of dollars worth of its surplus equipment, some of it assumedly used in places like Iraq and Afghanistan against armed insurgents, on police forces even in small towns nationwide. This includes M-16s, helmet-mounted infrared goggles, amphibious tanks, and helicopters. And now, the same up-armoring mentality is being brought to bear on a threat worse than terror: our children. Think of it as the reductio ad absurdum of the new national security state. First, they locked down the airports, then the capital, then the borders, and finally the schools. Now, we’re ready!
But the seldom-asked question is: ready for what? After all, with a few rare exceptions (including unpredictable lone wolf attacks like the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords; the disgruntled software engineer who flew his plane into a building containing an IRS office in Austin, Texas, killing himself and an IRS manager; Major Nidal Hassan’s murderous rampage at Fort Hood, Texas; and the Newtown slaughter), just about all “terror” threats in the U.S. have essentially been FBI sting operations involving crews of “terrorists” who were, by themselves, incapable of planning their way out of the proverbial paper bag. Imagine for a moment how much better off we might be today if the money that has, for more than a decade, poured into the militarization of the police had been plowed into American education or infrastructure or just about anything else. In that case, we might be prepared for something other than fighting phantoms and — as TomDispatch regular Chase Madar, author of The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower, points out today — handcuffing seven-year-olds. For the TV version of what’s happening in our schools at the moment, you would have to imagine “Homeland” populated by overarmed Muppets and Thomas the Tank (not the Tank Engine). Tom
The School Security America Doesn’t Need
After Newtown: Turning Schools Into Prisons
By Chase Madar
Outrage over the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre may or may not spur any meaningful gun control laws, but you can bet your Crayolas that it will lead to more seven-year-olds getting handcuffed and hauled away to local police precincts.
You read that right. Americans may disagree deeply about how easy it should be for a mentally ill convicted felon to purchase an AR-15, but when it comes to putting more law enforcement officers inside our schools, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and liberal Democrats like Senator Barbara Boxer are as one. And when police (or “school resource officers” as these sheriff’s deputies are often known) spend time in a school, they often deal with disorder like proper cops — by slapping cuffs on the little perps and dragging them to the precinct.
Just ask the three nine-year-old girls and an eight-year-old boy who got into a fight at their Baltimore elementary school — then got arrested by real police. Or Salecia Johnson, age six, cuffed and arrested for throwing a tantrum at her elementary school in Milledgeville, Georgia. Or Wilson Reyes, a seven-year-old at a Bronx, New York, elementary school who last December 4th was cuffed, hauled away, and interrogated under suspicion of taking $5 from a classmate. (Another kid later confessed.)
The last of these incidents made the cover of the New York Post, but the New York City Police Department still doesn’t understand what they did wrong — sure, the first-grader spent about 4 hours handcuffed in a detention room, but that’s “standard for juvenile arrest.”
Which is precisely the problem: standard juvenile misbehavior (a five-year-old pitching a fit, a 12-year-old doodling on a desk, a 13-year-old farting in class, a class clown running around the football field at halftime in a banana suit) is increasingly being treated like serious crime, resulting in handcuffs and arrest. If you can’t understand why such “consistency” is crazy, please desist from reading the rest of this article.
It seems grotesque that the horrific slaughter of those 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, will result in more children getting traumatized, but that’s exactly where we’re headed — with firm bipartisan support.
In his amazing post-Newtown speech last December, Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and executive vice president of the NRA, called for armed guards in all schools — a demand widely hailed as jaw-droppingly nutty. A few weeks later, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed $50 million in federal grants to install more metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and National Guard troops in schools, but made her pitch in the caring cadences of a Marin County Democrat. And when President Obama ordered more police in schools (point 18 in his 23-point Executive Order responding to the Sandy Hook tragedy), it was all over.
So here’s an American reality of 2013: we will soon have more police in our schools, and more seven-year-olds like Joseph Andersons of PS 153 in Maspeth, New York, getting arrested. (He got handcuffed after a meltdown when his Easter egg dye-job didn’t come out right.)
The School-to-Prison Pipeline