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Six-year-olds don't belong in handcuffs

April 17, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Here's yet another unbelievable story about a school that called the police to deal with a kindergartner throwing a temper tantrum and a Georgia police chief who thought it was appropriate to haul the child away in handcuffs.

The Associated Press reports that Salecia Johnson, age 6, had a colossal tantrum at Creekside Elementary School in Milledgeville, Ga. last Friday. The little girl was allegedly accused of tearing items off the walls, throwing furniture and knocking over a shelf that injured her principal.

The school called police and a police officer was no more successful at calming the little girl down. The officer put her in handcuffs and took her to the county jail. Initial reports said she'd been locked in a cell, but the police said they actually took her to the police lounge and tried to calm her down while they waited for her mother to arrive. The officer reportedly tried calling the mother from the school office six times but wasn't able to reach her. Salecia was originally charged with simple assault and damage to property, but the charges are being dropped because of her age.

The girl's family is furious over how the school and the police handled the situation. The child was frightened to be put in a jail cell by herself and said the handcuffs hurt her wrists.

"We would not like to see this happen to another child, because it's horrifying," said her aunt, Candace Ruff. "It's devastating." The police chief, Dray Swicord, said his policy is to handcuff any detainee in a patrol vehicle, apparently including 6-year-olds.

Judging by her photo, this little girl is black, which adds another level of concern. Recent statistics show that minority children and children with disabilities are considerably more likely to face more discipline and to have the police called on them than other children. This is not an isolated incident, either. There was a story about a school in Florida that did the same thing with a kindergartener about two years ago.

I don't care how out of control a child is – no small child should ever be put in handcuffs and hauled to the police station. Something is apparently very wrong with this little girl, as most 6-year-olds don't throw violent temper tantrums and destroy everything in their wake. Her mother, Constance Ruff, told a local TV station: "She has mood swings some days, which all of us have mood swings some days. I guess that was just one of her bad days." Most kids don't have "mood swings" that violent, so I hope someone gets this little girl a suitable medical and psychiatric evaluation.

Salecia's behavior and her parents' response to it are good reasons for the local social services office to investigate what might be going on at home to cause this behavior or what services this child might need. It might be a reason to put her in a restraining hold, for her own safety, or take her to a hospital for evaluation of her mental health. Her behavior suggests she might be a child who is emotionally disturbed and has or should have an individual educational plan to address problems in school like this one.

On the other hand, if she's a normal, healthy child who has simply never been taught self-discipline, I believe Georgia is still a state that allows school paddling. That might have been a better option to deal with this girl's behavior than the police, the handcuffs and possibly the juvenile court judge. A spanking is the traditional response to a naughty child. There is great debate over its effectiveness and calls for it to be outlawed, as it has been in public schools in most states. When I hear about incidents like this one, I think school paddling probably causes far less psychological damage than a trip to the police station. According to the parents, who were interviewed for an article that appeared in the Daily Mail in the UK, the child has been suspended for the rest of the school year.

All this has accomplished is to give young Salecia a criminal record before she's reached the age of reason and will perhaps make her think of herself as a criminal who belongs in jail and make her act out further.

There has to be a better way to handle this type of situation.


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