On Wednesday a video surfaced of a 10-year-old autistic boy being arrested at Okeechobee Achievement Academy in Florida. I am going to be completely honest, when I watched the video, I was as disturbed and uncomfortable. The child is clearly terrified and repeatedly says, “I don’t want to be touched” as one of the school resource officers reaches over and handcuffs the small child. As the boy is being led out of the school and into the back of a police car, you can hear the fear in the boy’s voice as you hear him say, “I don’t know what’s going on, Mama! I don’t understand.” As I watched the young man be seated in the back of a police car, and seat belted in, I felt sick to my stomach.
When the video ended, I will admit, I could feel a tight, dry feeling in my throat. The physical side effect of being overcome by great emotion. I could no longer perceive the incident from the vantage of a veteran law enforcement officer and offer procedural critique. Rather, I was emotionally stripped of my professional title. I was reduced to my core existence as a father, and a human being and in this state that lacked legalistic bias or professional preconceptions, I was moved to utter sadness. This video was as clear evidence as I have ever seen that America is broken.
No one should be ok with what is shown on the video of this young boy. However, two adult law enforcement officers and assumedly some adult education professionals, we cannot see on film, were. How can we have reached this place as a society?
The child’s arrest stemmed from an incident that occurred in October of last year. The child was diagnosed with autism two years prior, something that was known by the school as he was assigned an individualized education plan (IEP) since starting school last year. As a part of the child’s IEP, he was assigned a paraprofessional educator. The boy had claimed that the teacher’s aide was hurting him, and in light of the mother expressing concerns that, at a minimum, this aide was not working with the child, the school would not assign a new aide for him. The arrest came as a result of the child refusing to go into timeout by kicking and scratching the teacher’s aide, last fall. The video of the child’s arrest was filmed on April 12th when the young boy and his mother had been called to the school for state standardizing testing. Unbeknownst to the mother, a warrant had been issued for the young boy’s arrest for felony battery on a school board employee.
Truthfully, not as Lieutenant Tim McMillan, but as just Tim, I have an oscillating wave of emotions over this. None of those feelings are good. I assume it is now universally standard in all school systems that education professionals are prohibited from spanking children. By and large, most of the society have come to the conclusion that spanking as a punishment should only come at the discretion of a child’s parents. In essence, to be physically punished by an educator or de facto a stranger is abuse. However, having a 10-year-old boy handcuffed, arrested and sent to a juvenile detention center is evidently... what, progressive discipline?
Bear in mind; the above opinions are attributed to how comfortable society is with educational institutions punishing children in general. However, in this case, we aren’t just talking about the comprehensive school populous. We are talking about a child who has a diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum. An undergraduate student with an intro to psychology course under their belt could probably tell you that autistic people can have difficulty regulating emotion. That is one of the reasons in which a child with autism would be assigned an individual education plan and the assistance of particular teacher’s aide, to begin with. When you consider the fact that a specially designated teacher had a warrant taken out on a 10-year-old child with autism this entire event is almost incomprehensible.
I have to ask, what did anyone involved in this situation hope the outcome would be? I cannot be removal from the school system, as the child was already on suspension as it was. Additionally, none of the educational instructors or administrators could have possibly thought that arrest or criminal prosecution would ultimately be a benefit for this child… could they? Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs social interaction and communication. Additionally, some children who have autism can have episodes of aggression and tantrums. In essence, the ability is for the criminal justice system to effectively help a child with autism overcome their difficulties is virtually zero. So again, I have to ask, what outcome did anyone hope having this child arrested would achieve?
Sure, the cops are some of the easiest targets to assign blame in this case. That is a common side effect of being the enforcers of society’s rules and regulations. Unquestionably, when it comes to the culpability for this incident, the public will be fractured into two groups. One group will say the cops were just doing their job and the blame lays solely with the school administration. Another group will say the police are equally responsible for acting on the corrupt orders of the education system. Assuredly, many heated debates will then ensue on law enforcement’s role in society and at what point is the line crossed, and one becomes complicit with unethical mandates. Ultimately, what will probably be lost in many of these debates are the necessary steps to rectify the entire issue. What will be misunderstood by many people, is that both groups can be inherently correct, while also being altogether wrong.
At the end of the day, when we watch a video of a 10-year-old autistic child being led away in handcuffs and placed in the back of a police car, we should rigorously question law enforcement’s role in society. Have we trained up our law enforcement to “just follow orders” beyond reproach? Have we prepared our police to enforce laws, without ever educating them on the morality behind why they exist?
If indeed this case, then as a society, we have cast ourselves out to sea without any legitimate guardians of our ethical and moral compass. We will be doomed to float along, rudderless and destitute to powerful currents of culture we will at times unintentionally stir up. The only method we will have to chart our course will be to crash into obstacles that lay just below the surface. As we determine that is it best to shove off into another direction, behind us, we will leave the discarded bodies of those who unfortunately fell overboard when we ran aground. At what cost does this come to us as a society, if we continue to navigate this way? I the end, I cannot say for sure. However, I can say that on April 12, 2017, we left a 10-year-old, autistic castaway, thanks to our inability to effectively establish oversight for our moral navigation. Now, when it comes to the educators in this case, frankly from the way things look right now on the horizon, I’m not entirely sure you ever desired to let this young boy on the boat, in the first place.