In the case of Jaisha Aikins, in 2005. Jaisha, a five-year-old black girl, was handcuffed and arrested at her St Petersburg, Florida, school for essentially throwing a temper tantrum – as every five-year-old has done at some point.
The school’s administrators and some media commentators justified putting a five-year-old in handcuffs on the grounds that she “punched” the school’s vice-principal, as if the little girl had hauled back and clocked her, rather than flailing at her with tiny hands while in the throes of a tantrum, with the force of a child.
It was clear from video taken of the incident that the vice-principal was not hurt and that Jaisha eventually calmed down. In fact, Jaisha was sitting calmly in a chair when police arrived in response to the vice-principal’s call to arrest an unruly student.
Even after discovering the student was a kindergartener, three white armed officers nevertheless proceeded to pull the little girl’s hands behind her back to put them in handcuffs as she cried and begged them not to. Jaisha was taken to the police station in a patrol car, but released to her mother’s custody when prosecutors refused to file charges against her.
In her book Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Monique Morris tells the stories of several other black girls as young as six and seven arrested in school in similar incidents over subsequent years, some as recently as 2013. In some cases, the little girls were held in police cars and stations for extended periods of time after arrest. Alarmingly, among the violent policing tactics that have migrated from the streets to schools is indiscriminate use of stun guns, or Tasers, which are used to subdue people by firing barbs into them that deliver a jolt of electricity.
While researching a 2006 report on the US government’s failure to comply with the UN Convention Against Torture, a 2004 case described a Miami-Dade police officer used a Taser against a 12-year-old girl, shocking her with 50,000 volts of electricity – for skipping school.
Policing of girls extends beyond instances where officers are summoned by school administrators. Police are increasingly stationed inside schools, leading to increased police contact with girls, and increased police violence as officers enforce school rules.
For instance, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) reported several cases where young women of color were slammed against the wall, thrown to the floor and arrested by officers stationed in their schools for leaving class a few minutes late (“roaming the hallways”), asking for return of a confiscated cell phone (“threatening an officer”), or cursing in the hallway (“disorderly conduct”).
The presence of law enforcement officers in schools has driven increased student referrals to police and arrests in schools, often “for actions that would not otherwise be viewed as criminal ... such as refusing to present identification, using profanity with a school administrator, or ‘misbehaving’”.
One study found that the rate at which students are referred for lower-level offenses more than doubles when a school has regular contact with a “school resource officer”.
The result is a “net-widening” effect expanding surveillance of youth of color and infusing policing and prison culture into schools across the country, with predictable effects. “Routine” frisks and scans can quickly escalate to strip searches. Girls whose underwire bras set off metal detectors have been forced to lift up their shirts or unbuckle or unzip their pants to prove that they are not concealing weapons, or cell phones. The searches these girls were subjected to appear to have been motivated at least in part by controlling narratives framing Asian women as knife-wielding assassins, Latinas and black girls as drug “mules”, and Muslim women as potential terrorists. They also often produce racially gendered humiliation, as officers rifling through young women’s belongings find tampons, birth control pills and condoms.
Kathleen Nolan, a former New York public school teacher, describes “considerable subjectivity in determining whether a behavior was actually a violation of the law”, and notes that everyday items – box cutters used for after-school jobs, razors used to style hair, Mace or pepper spray carried by young women for protection – were met with “zero tolerance” in a school populated by youth of color.
a 2005 report issued by the Advancement Project concluded: “Across the board, the data shows that black and Latino students are more likely than their white peers to be arrested in school . . . despite the lack of evidence that black and Latino students misbehave more than their white peers.” Black students are “punished more severely for less seriously and more subjectively defined infractions” such as “disturbing school” or “disorderly conduct”. Race remained a reliable predictor of discipline for subjective violations like disruption. In South Carolina, black students are nearly four times as likely to be charged with “disturbing school” as white students. Today, black girls make up approximately 33% of girls referred to law enforcement or arrested on school grounds but only 16% of the female student population.
Between late 2003 and early 2005, at least 24 Central Florida students, some as young as 12, were shocked with Tasers by police officers in public schools. A typical scenario involved officers wading in through a crowd to break up a fight and using Tasers to “get them to move”. As of 2005, 32% of police departments interviewed by the weapon’s manufacturer, Taser International, had used Tasers in schools. An August 2016 Huffington Post investigation uncovered at least 84 incidents of Taser use against students since 2011.