Just read a headline in my morning San Francisco Chronicle. “$55,000 for pepper spraying of child.” Sounds a tad extreme. What could possibly cause a cop to use a toxic weapon on a kid?! Well, apparently, back in June 2010, a 7-year-old special education student from San Mateo (who, according to the story, has “learning difficulties, dyslexia, anxiety disorder and social-skill problems”) perched on an “unsteady” piece of classroom furniture and refused to get down. Classroom aides called the police. (Huh?!) An officer arrived with a can of pepper spray. (You’ve gotta be prepared facing a 2nd grader.) After warning the child that he’d be pepper sprayed if he didn’t get down by the count of five, the officer sprayed him. According to the filed complaint, the child didn’t know what pepper spray was. Guess that should now be included in the 2nd grade curriculum.
A quick search revealed that in April of this year, another elementary school student in a special education class was a pepper sprayed by police at his Denver school.
In the Denver case, the child behaved violently, throwing furniture, wielding a broken piece of board, cursing and threatening to “kill” his teachers. The police reportedly felt the safety of the teachers and students was threatened and they needed to subdue that 8 year old quickly.
In the San Mateo incident, apparently the child was in danger of tumbling from a bookcase and they needed to subdue that 7 year old quickly.
I wasn’t at either scene, but I’m wondering: if a police officer doesn’t have the common sense and the training to safely get a 7 or 8 year old under control, then what the hell is that officer doing on the force?
I’m also wondering if this isn’t a case of “When all you’ve got is a can of pepper spray, then everyone looks like a dangerous suspect needing to be subdued quickly.”
Finally, I’m wondering what lessons the victims and rest of the kids in those two classrooms took home that day about police officers and teachers… adults who are supposed to care about kids and know how to take the time to listen to them, to understand and to help.