You’ve no doubt heard about the myriad cases around the country in which schools are disciplining, suspending, expelling, or even arresting students, some very young, for possessing “weapons” under “zero-tolerance” policies.
There was the infamous case in which a school suspended a 7-year-old boy for throwing an imaginary grenade while playing “rescue the world” at recess.
The child put it best when he said, “I can’t believe I got ‘dispended.’” No sane person could believe it either.
But context matters. School districts across America are disciplining 11-year-old students for possessing a butter knife to cut a peach and children for having G.I Joe guns smaller than a quarter. This is more about anti-gun indoctrination than about safety.
But other situations are more nuanced and less clear.
Take a recent incident last month in which police arrested a 13-year-old girl for pointing a finger gun at classmates.
But it appears there is more to the story — as well as two sides to that story.
The unnamed juvenile attends Westridge Middle School in Overland Park, Kansas, according to the Kansas City Star. An anonymous person familiar with the incident told the Star that on Sept. 18, 2019, during a class discussion, one classmate asked the suspect which five people she would kill if she could.
The girl then allegedly made a common gun gesture with her thumb and index finger.
Then she pointed her “finger gun” at some students — for which her teacher sent her to the principal.
Subsequent reports indicate the girl apparently also pointed “at four of her middle school classmates” and then at herself.
Some want to blame the police, of course, for the “overreaction” — without having been present during the incident or having seen and heard the evidence.
The girl’s mother, for example, said she “pleaded” with the school resource officer not to arrest her daughter. The officer said, “I will press charges against anyone who I think has broken the law,” according to the girl’s mother. His job, right?
In response, the girl’s mother felt the officer had “such a great opportunity to change something in a child, but he chose not to.”
She also said she thought the arrest was “an insane abuse of power.” She described her daughter as “a child. She is kind. She is loving. She’s shy.”
She added her daughter “is a precocious kid who is passionate about gun control, human rights and cats.” OK.
If her daughter is all these things — then what “opportunity to change something in a child” did the officer miss? What “change” did she have in mind for her kind, loving, and shy child?
A clue might come when considering the other side of the story. For one thing, police did not arrest the girl for pointing a finger gun; they arrested her for felony threats against other students who said they felt threatened by the girl’s gesture.
A Kansas middle school is dealing with an unusual case where a 13-year-old girl is being charged with a felony for making a threat involving a finger gun. https://t.co/hGx9IUwfOo
— WQAD (@wqad) October 14, 2019
— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) October 13, 2019
A 13-year-old was arrested for pointing a finger gun at other students. The police chief told me he's fine with criticism:
“I’ll take the heat all day long for arresting a 13-year-old. I’m not willing to take the heat for not preventing a school tragedy.” https://t.co/QobX2BY64V
— Olivia Niland (@OliviaNiland) October 12, 2019
While the girl’s mother said students have bullied her daughter, students tell a different story. This wasn’t the first incident where other students expressed fearing the student, according to reports.
Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez backed his officer’s actions. “We have all seen cases where tragic incidents have occurred, and the first thing people say is, ‘There were signs. Why didn’t they see the signs?’” Donchez also said they have to take threats in schools “very seriously.”
He pointed out that the “officer did a thorough investigation” — and that was “obvious” because the Johnson County district attorney “found enough evidence to support filing charges.”
One uncomfortable issue is, according to reports, that the girl didn’t initiate the “threat.” Coverage indicates another student prompted the girl to point out students she’d like to kill if she could.
What culpability does that student have, especially since the suspect’s mother accuses that student of being among those who often bully her daughter? Was the girl set up? Maybe. Does that excuse the gesture if it was done with malice? No.
The school reportedly received several complaints overnight on a school “tip line” from students who felt threatened by the incident.
Comments made by the girl’s grandfather, Jon Cavanaugh of California, are an example of why it’s so difficult for police who investigate such incidents. Cavanaugh feels the parties could have handled the incident in the principal’s office.
This is a valid opinion — and he has a right to it. However, according to the reporting, Cavanaugh also said his granddaughter does not intend to injure anyone and does not have “access to guns.”
He may be right. He’s probably right.
But can the school and police bet children’s lives on what a grandfather in California thinks about his granddaughter in Kansas? Not really.
Still, there are other troubling aspects.
The Star reported that a month earlier, two Hocker Grove Middle School Students brought real guns to school in their backpacks. Rather than a felony, as with the student brandishing her “finger gun,” the DA charged the students who were carrying the guns with a misdemeanor — as they were juveniles in possession of a firearm.
Again, some want to blame the police and prosecutor for the level of charges, but that’s not fair. Under Kansas law, a threat to shoot someone is a felony — but a juvenile with a gun, absent brandishing or threatening, is a misdemeanor.
That’s just the way it is until the legislature changes it. Does the discrepancy seem stupid? Sure.
Is there anything the cops can do about it? No. But the people criticizing the incident and how it was handled can contact their elected officials.
Naturally, the student’s mother is concerned for her daughter’s post-high school college or military prospects with a felony on her record. However, Johnson County DA Steve Howe says it’s not likely the girl will spend any time incarcerated because she probably qualifies for a leniency program.
The DA’s office said more than 40 percent of juveniles enter a diversion program, which allows them to avoids a criminal record if the juvenile meets the program’s standards.
The girl’s mother remains unsatisfied with the school, police, and juvenile justice systems. She believes the system did not protect her daughter from bullies.
From what I’ve read, the jury is still out on who the bully is, exactly.
But, then again, I went to a Catholic school in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Back then, rather than call the cops for my misbehavior (which probably would have been more merciful), after the nuns finished with me — I could expect more of the same from my mother when I got home.
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