For decades, activists have sounded the alarm about the school-to-prison pipeline, one of the many insidious systemic issues young Black students face every day. As recent as last year, it was reported that Black children, especially Black girls, are more likely to be criminalized and experience severe punishment over simple schoolyard conflicts that could be quietly resolved in a principal’s office.
With that said, two civil rights advocacy groups rightfully cried foul in a letter sent to the Honolulu Police Department, education department and the state attorney general’s office on Monday, demanding accountability and reforms following the arrest of a 10-year-old Black girl with ADHD. Her crime? Drawing a mean picture of her school bully.
The girl, who is referred to as “N.B.” in the letter penned by the Hawaii branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and Caballero Law LLC, was handcuffed with excessive force by police officers in front of her classmates at Honowai Elementary School in Waipahu, Hawaii, according to Hawaii News Now.
The ACLU’s letter says that the day after N.B. made the drawing of her bully in January 2020, a parent of one of the students who received the girl’s sketch complained about it being “offensive” and told the school to call the police.
“She didn’t bring any weapons to school, she didn’t make any explicit threats to anyone,” said Mateo Caballero, the attorney representing the girl and her mother.
Tamara Taylor, the girl’s mother, was confined in a room and not allowed to see her daughter when she arrived at the school. She says that officers told her they were negotiating with another parent about the incident. Her daughter was detained, questioned and taken to Pearl City Police Station.
Here’s more from Hawaii News Now:
A few days after the incident, Taylor delivered a grievance letter to the school and Leeward District Complex Area Superintendent Keith Hui, which stated in part:
“Although I was at Honowai Elementary, I was not told that my daughter was removed from the premises, handcuffed in front of staff and her peers, placed into a squad car and taken away.”
“I was stripped of my rights as a parent and my daughter was stripped of her right to protection and representation as a minor. There was no understanding of diversity, African-American culture and the history of police involvement with African-American youth. My daughter and I are traumatized from these events and I’m disheartened to know that this day will live with my daughter forever.”
The ACLU believes that after hearing the statements made by officers, the girl was brought into the police station because they thought she wasn’t taking the situation seriously and allegedly wondered out loud “what jail would be like.” Scarily enough, Hawaii News Now reports that the officers actually followed the protocol for responding to complaints when they arrested the 10-year-old that day.
The Associated Press reports that N.B. told Taylor that the officers made her remove her shoelaces and earrings at the station, but she didn’t know how to. The ACLU also says that the handcuffs left marks on the girl’s wrists.
N.B. wasn’t charged with any crimes, and she was released to her mother after four hours in custody, according to the Independent.
The girl and her mother both left Hawaii for the U.S. mainland, traumatized after the incident.
“We don’t want it to be about the drawing,” attorney Caballero said. “This is about a 10-year-old Black girl who was arrested and there was no reason to believe that she was violent.”
The organizations claim that there is a pattern of police abuse in the school and accuse both the school and police of discriminating against the girl and her mother. The Independent notes that both Taylor and the ACLU call for policy changes that stop police from being called unless there is a significant threat and end the practice of child interrogations without a parent or guardian present.
AP reports the ACLU is seeking $500,000 from the city and state for damages to the child and her mother. The police department, education officials and the state attorney general’s office have until Nov. 8 to respond to the letter. Both the city attorneys and Honolulu police say they are working to address the allegations.