Efforts to make schools and neighborhoods safer with police protection and disciplinary codes can result in bizarre overreactions. Recent incidents of criminalization or excessive punishment of child's play include:
- Miami police used a Taser stun gun to shock a 6-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl within weeks of each other last fall. The boy was threatening to injure himself with a shard of glass. The girl was skipping school and apparently drunk when she ran away from a police officer escorting her back to school. (Associated Press, 11-14-04, 11-12-04)
- A 5-year-old St. Louis charter school student was handcuffed by police at the request of the principal, who wanted to teach the unruly boy a lesson. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12-15-04)
- Two north Florida 1st-graders were arrested after fights in separate incidents in October and September. An 8-year-old, 70-pound 1st-grader was handcuffed after reportedly punching and slapping a 10-year-old boy, whose mother called police. He was charged with misdemeanor battery and criminal mischief and taken to a juvenile center. A 7-year-old was arrested at school for allegedly fighting another student, hitting a teacher and scratching a police officer. (Associated Press, 10-6-04)
- A Colorado 7th-grader was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct following a shoving match last May with a Hispanic student who allegedly harassed him in Spanish for almost a month before. Neither student was injured and no charges were made against the Hispanic student. (Associated Press, 9-29-04)
- An 11-year-old California girl was suspended from her school for doing cartwheels and handstands during lunchtime. School officials, who had warned her to stop, said gymnastics on the playground are unsafe. Her parents plan to homeschool until they find a more "reasonable" school. (Local6com, 11-12-04)
'Zero tolerance' strikes again
- A 10-year-old Philadelphia girl was placed in handcuffs and taken to a police station because she took a pair of scissors to her elementary school. School district officials said the 4th-grader did not threaten anyone but violated a state law that considers scissors to be potential weapons. Police officers decided the girl hadn't committed a crime and let her go. However, she was suspended from school for five days and administrators will decide at a hearing whether she may return to class or be expelled to a disciplinary school. (Associated Press, 12-12-04) Officials later apologized for the handcuffing.
- A teenage Civil War buff in New York was suspended for 21 days and charged with a misdemeanor after his replica musket was spotted in his car trunk at school along with the rest of his costume for a battle re-enactment. Police were called, the student was handcuffed and he was charged with criminal possession of a weapon. The Pine Bush high school had recruited students to take part in the re-enactors club. (Associated Press, 10-13-04)
- An 8-year-old New Jersey boy who used an L-shaped piece of paper in a game of "cops and robbers" at recess spent five hours in police custody and had to make two court appearances before charges were dropped.
- Tiny plastic toy guns led to suspensions of five young boys in Alabama and Georgia. Toy guns were the grounds for arrest of two elementary-school students in Florida and Alabama.
- A 12-year-old Louisiana boy was arrested for making a terrorist threat after telling students ahead of him in the lunch line to leave some potatoes or "I'm going to get you." He spent two weeks in jail awaiting a hearing. (nationalreview.com, 9-8-04)