No matter how little we are aware of what goes on in the news there are some things that happen that angers us all. Child abuse and excessive force against children is one of those hot topics. It seems the incidents of extreme force and violence against children in public school settings increase daily. Parents should not have to send their children to school and be concerned about their welfare in the custody of those sworn to protect them. More and more every day however, the news brings us stories of children being assaulted, humiliated and degraded by school officials. Currently the eyes of the world are on Baltimore, Maryland and the slap and kick seen around the world.
As a parent of a student who attends a Baltimore City Public School I was mortified when I watched the 4-second video clip that went viral last week of Officer Anthony C. Spence assaulting a student. There was no need to know the context of what happened prior to the video being started. What showed on the video was enough for myself and the rest of the viewing public to know it was wrong, against protocol. There is NO excuse, whatsoever for an adult, a police officer, an authority figure to violently hit and kick someone’s child in a secluded hallway. Even more disturbing than the officer who was assaulting this child was the fact that a female officer casually stood by his side, watching. She offered no assistance to the child in need nor made any movement to stop her fellow officer. When context was offered, we were told the officer had “been called for an intruder” and that the child being assaulted was NOT a student. However, that story quickly changed and it was confirmed that the young man assaulted was indeed a student on the roster at REACH Partnership School where the incident occurred.
Scarier than the sight of this officer assaulting this student was the fact that this enraged officer was armed, which violated the laws in Baltimore City. A new law went into effect in Baltimore City in April 2015. It stipulated that officers are allowed to be armed while responding to schools, but prohibits them from carrying weapons while working inside school buildings. Officer Anthony C. Spence is one of the officers assigned to a REACH Partnership School he is on duty in that building all day. He was breaking the law by having his gun on him in the building. All I could think of while watching is that this poor child was about to become another statistic. Then I found myself imagining my own son, who is a freshman at a local high school here in Baltimore.
An investigation was quickly launched as more and more outraged people saw the video. Both officers were immediately suspended as was School Police Chief Marshall Goodwin. Today, March 9th both officers were charged, booked and released. Officer Anthony C. Spence was charged with child abuse, assault and misconduct in office. Officer Officer Saverna Bias, who stood by verbally egging him on was charged with assault and misconduct in office. They are due back in court on April 7, according to the court documents. Lauren Geisser the attorney for the unidentified teen and his parents has said the 10th-grader suffered face and rib injuries. Baltimore City School Officials have stated that an internal investigation is still pending.
As more information on the officers were released it was discovered that both have a prior history of violence. Both officer Bias and Spencer have had protective orders filed against them for domestic violence claims. Officer Spencer was fired from the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office for tasering an innocent man he suspected to be a bank robber in 2003. The following year he was hired to work in the Baltimore City Public School System.
In September of last year Baltimore City School Resource Officer Lakisha Pulley plead guilty to 3 charges of second-degree assault after an altercation with 3 female students. Officer Pulley got into a fight with a student after a verbal exchange, it got physical and the student’s sister and cousin tried to intervene. Officer Pulley beat one girl atop the head with her baton so hard the girls head was split open. All three girls were also pepper sprayed and taken to the hospital for medical attention.
We hear about officers using excessive or deadly force daily and we neglect to think about the officers in our school systems. We feel so safe with our children within the confines of the school building we forget that these same aggressive officers are inside the school with our children all day. These incidents make me think of more than the Freddie Grays, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice’s of the world. They make me think of the Ben Fields of the world. Remember Officer Ben Fields? Last year he made worldwide headlines when he was seen slinging a female student around in her desk chair with no regard for her life or safety. It makes me think with all the incidents of police brutality and the way we keep seeing grown men and women, sworn to protect and serve mishandle and manhandle children, why are they still in our schools?
Police officers have not the patience of teachers and school administrators. They have not been trained to deal with children all day. Having police in the school is one of the reason people feel there is a school to prison pipeline. Students feel and are treated as if they are in a penal environment. Baltimore City School Resource Officers are not there to discipline any student, they are there in a role of protectors. It’s a shame that a few bad apples spoil the bunch. In Baltimore where there’s already a powder keg of emotions over police brutality, this incident could relight a fuse many are eager to extinguish.
A google search turned up isolated events of excessive force in Tulsa, Ok, Raliegh, SC, Southeast DC and more. It seems cases like these go unreported often. Once Officer Spencer was charged formally and his photo was disseminated all over social media via local news stations, comment after comment was posted from form city school students who had interaction with him. They retold of watching him assault others throughout is 12 year career.
I grew up in the Officer Friendly days, when children were taught police officers were our friends. I have a whole different conversation with my 15-year-old about the police these days. It’s scary. Every time someone runs from an officer and is shot in the back people wondered why they ran. I know why, it’s scarier to be alone in a dark alley with a cop than a stranger these days. Imagine how that feels to a child who is still navigating the world and trying to understand how it works. Understand their confusion when they are given such contradicting evidence and information about the police. Are they there to assist or assault? Help or harm? Are we sending our children to school or junior prison? What can we do to protect our children from the ones sworn to protect them?