At what point will our black children be treated like children?
In 2014, Kaylb Wiley Primm was in second grade in Kansas City and being regularly bullied by another student for a hearing disability he had. When the boy began to tease him in class, Kaylb started to cry and scream. The teacher called the school resource officer, Brandon Craddock, who removed Kaylb from class and began to walk him to the principal’s office.
When Kaylb couldn’t stop crying and follow Craddock’s orders to be quiet, the officer put the 7-year-old boy in handcuffs. He sat handcuffed in the principal’s office for 15 minutes waiting for a parent to arrive to pick him up. At the time, he stood less than four feet tall and weighed 48 pounds.
Now the ACLU is suing the school district for using excessive force that violated the child’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. “This child committed no crime, threatened no one, and posed no danger to anyone,” said ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert. “Gratuitously handcuffing children is cowardly and violates the constitution.”
The ACLU points out that the incident “also violated state policy, which says that the use of restraints for elementary and secondary students should be used only in extreme circumstances or emergencies.”
After the incident, Kalyb’s mom, Tomesha Primm, didn’t feel that her child was safe and Kalyb was scared to return to school. She pulled him and homeschooled him for the next two years. And who can blame her? How can you feel safe leaving your 7-year-old somewhere he’s regarded as dangerous enough to put in handcuffs? He was crying as a result of being relentlessly teased. And he was seven.
Fox 4 Kansas City reports “court documents say KCPS spokeswoman Eileen Houston-Stewart once publicly stated that Craddock had followed district protocol and that ‘[t]here are a number of methods our staff can use, and one of those is using handcuffs, and that’s what occurred in this incident.'” Excuse me, what? A district spokeswoman actually defended this behavior as A-OK? It’s disgusting, but not surprising, because studies show that time and time again black children are regarded as “older” and “less innocent” than their white peers.
“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” writes Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, in a study published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
In 2012, data from the Department of Education revealed that black students were much more likely than white students to face discipline at school: “Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school.”
Now, you can say, This evidence doesn’t mean anything! and continue to bury your head in the sand, but if you do that — odds are you have a child unaffected by this bias. Study after study proves that black children are not afforded the assumption of youth and innocence that white children are, and that’s simply not okay. It’s institutional racism affecting even the most vulnerable in our society — children.
Jesse Williams said, “The existence of your neighbor’s pain is not dependent upon your belief in it. And we cannot improve a situation that we didn’t acknowledge. Learning from patterns is both basic and critical to the progress of human ‘civilization’.” So if it takes lawsuits to get school districts to open their eyes to their own biases, so be it.
Progress is a must. There is no other option. Especially at the elementary school level, we understand that “kids will be kids” — but we don’t allow this rule to hold true for black kids.
“No schools should be handcuffing little kids. I want it to stop,” Primm told The Huffington Post. “Someone needs to step up and speak up. Unfortunately, I’m not a media guru. This is, to a certain point, embarrassing. But if this is what it takes to help people recognize it’s not OK…”