Baby Hall

By Bonnie Weinstein

I just read the most horrible story I have read recently in the New York Times entitled, “6-Year-Olds Under Arrest,” by Op-Ed Columnist Bob Herbert, on April 9, 2007. The link is listed at the end of this article.

I doubt I will ever get the image out of my head. The decay of capitalism will sink lower than humanity has ever sunk. The battle ahead of humanity is for life itself for this is surely hell. The following is a long quote from the article—it must be read to be believed! (I have also added my own personal experience with police child custody.)

When 6-year-old Desre’e Watson threw a tantrum in her kindergarten class a couple of weeks ago she could not have known that the full force of the law would be brought down on her and that she would be carted off by the police as a felon.

But that’s what happened in this small, backward city in central Florida. According to the authorities, there were no other options.

“The student became violent,” said Frank Mercurio, the no-nonsense chief of the Avon Park police. “She was yelling, screaming—just being uncontrollable. Defiant.”

“But she was 6,” I said.

The chief’s reply came faster than a speeding bullet: “Do you think this is the first 6-year-old we’ve arrested?”

The child’s tantrum occurred on the morning of March 28 at the Avon Elementary School. According to the police report, ‘Watson was upset and crying and wailing and would not leave the classroom to let them study, causing a disruption of the normal class activities.’

After a few minutes, Desre’e was, in fact, taken to another room. “She was ‘isolated,’” the chief said. But she would not calm down. She flailed away at the teachers who tried to control her. She pulled one woman’s hair. She was kicking.

I asked the chief if anyone had been hurt. “Yes,” he said. “At least one woman reported ‘some redness.’”

After 20 minutes of this ‘uncontrollable’ behavior, the police were called in. At the sight of the two officers, Chief Mercurio said, “Desre’e tried to take flight.”

She went under a table. One of the police officers went after her. Each time the officer tried to grab her to drag her out, Desre’e would pull her legs away, the chief said.

Ultimately the child was no match for Avon Park’s finest. The cops pulled her from under the table and handcuffed her. The officers were not fooling around. In the eyes of the cops the 6-year-old was a criminal, and in Avon Park she would be treated like any other felon.

There was a problem, though. The handcuffs were not manufactured with kindergarten kids in mind. The chief explained: “You can’t handcuff them on their wrists because their wrists are too small, so you have to handcuff them up by their biceps.” ... He handed me a copy of the police report: black female. Six years old. Thin build. Dark complexion.

Desre’e was put in the back of a patrol car and driven to the police station. “Then,” said Chief Mercurio, “she was transported to central booking, which is the county jail.”

The child was fingerprinted and a mug shot was taken. “Those are the normal procedures for anyone who is arrested,” the chief said.

Desre’e was charged with battery on a school official, which is a felony, and two misdemeanors: disruption of a school function and resisting a law enforcement officer. After a brief stay at the county jail, she was released to the custody of her mother.

(I have been reading about the “Indian Wars” that this nation was founded on and, in particular, about the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado on November 29, 1864. When asked if the children should be spared, the U.S. commanding Officer said, “Nits make lice!” They killed them all. I have also added a link to an excellent documentary about the massacre for your information below. Why should we expect anything different from a system based upon such a foundation?)

Routine procedure by the police in my neighborhood

This story of little Desere’e reminded me of when my youngest son and his best friend were 10 and 9 years old, respectively, and my nephew was five-years-old. They were all playing outside of my house in the Baview/Hunters Point district of San Francisco (a predominantly Black and poor working-class community.) It was in the summer of 1989. I got a call from my neighbor, the grandmother of my son’s best friend—who was 9-years-old. She said the police picked up the kids and had them in the back of a squad car. I ran outside of the house and up toward her house—about eight houses up near the top the block.

The squad car was outside in the street. I could see the shadow of our three kids in the back seat. Grandma was yelling in outrage as I was panting up the block. The police let the kids out of the car and into her custody as I approached, out of breath, from running up the hill. (She had claimed they were all three her grandchildren.)

The police claimed that the kids were vandalizing a car. The car in question was an abandoned car, broken into, smashed with all four tires slashed and left on our block at the bottom of this hill right off Third Street—the main artery for the community, for weeks—it was obvious that it was probably stolen and taken on a joy ride crashing into things on the way.

Our children, being curious, were busy looking into the open trunk and through broken glass and, as it turned out when I looked myself, through discarded hypodermic needles and razor blades!

Instead of viewing the abandoned car as a hazard to curious children and removing it from the neighborhood, the police, in their kindly wisdom, decided to try to nail our 5, 9, and 10-year-old boys for vandalism.

When I asked the cops what the hell they were doing with our kids in the squad car, terrifying them half to death, the police said they were indeed thinking of charging the kids for all the vandalism done to the car!

Although they did not charge our kids, I was outraged and made a formal complaint with the police department a few days later. I was led into a tiny closet of a room with one police officer with a tape recorder. I made my complaint, basically stating that the car should have been towed away weeks ago as it had been already smashed and vandalized at the time it showed up on our block and was a hazard and nuisance to everyone on the block as there was broken glass all around it and inside it and it was taking up a precious parking space.

They did finally tow the car, but I never heard anything more from the police about my complaint even though I checked on the progress of my report for months. The police simply said it was under advisement every time I called.

This has always been routine police action in the Black and poor communities but the schools were supposed to be different. When children acted up in school—especially with kindergarten and elementary school children—the parents were called in to pick their child up in the most serious circumstances. Otherwise, a note was sent home for the parents to sign. Or, perhaps the school called a conference with the parents.

But capitalism is spinning out of control and that’s how little boys get accused of vandalism for being curious and a six-year-old little girl gets a felony arrest for throwing a tantrum in kindergarten.

Perhaps in addition to Juvenile Hall the next step will be Baby Hall. All those screaming infants keeping neighbors awake all hours of the night could be arrested for disturbing the peace!