It’s no surprise that law enforcement often treat people of color differently. However, in the case of children, it’s far worse: Law enforcement and other authorities often treat children of color, especially Black folks, far more aggressively than others. In a recent incident proving this, Honolulu police in Hawaii handcuffed and arrested a 10-year-old girl in January 2020 for drawing an offensive picture of another student.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU) of Hawaii is demanding the state’s education department and Honolulu police adopt immediate reforms following this incident after allegations that both the child’s rights and her mother’s rights were violated.
According to NBC News, in response to the incident, the ACLU sent a letter Monday to interim Honolulu Police Chief Rade Vanic, Hawaii Department of Education Interim Superintendent Keith T. Hayashi, and other local and state officials on behalf of Tamara Taylor and her daughter, identified as N.B. In addition to policy changes, the ACLU demanded that all records of the arrest be expunged and for there to be a payout of $500,000 in damages for “harm and suffering” caused by their agencies.
The letter noted that not only was Tamara Taylor detained, but she was kept from seeing her minor daughter, who was arrested without probable cause, imprisoned, and subjected to excessive force following an incident at school. It follows a January 2020 incident in which N.B. was accused of creating an “offensive” drawing of another student who bullied her at Honowai Elementary School.
After seeing the drawing, a parent called the Honowai Elementary School to complain about the drawing and demanded the staff call police, the ACLU said. Police were called and when they arrived, they arrested the Black child and she was “handcuffed with excessive force and taken to the police station,” the ACLU said.
According to the letter, Tamara Taylor was called by a school administrator and pulled up to the school to see her daughter being driven away in a police car. She then yelled: “No! What did you just do? Bring her back here! You’ve just violated our rights!”
Tamara Taylor then cried, “loudly and full of anguish as her daughter was being driven away in handcuffs,” the letter says.
When Tamara Taylor was finally able to pick up her daughter, N.B. was not only hungry but had marks on her wrists from being handcuffed. According to the letter, one officer even told another, “Oh, so she wanted to see what jail is like for a day.”
According to the letter, in conversation with an officer and a school administrator, Tamara Taylor was told her daughter was taken to the police station because they didn’t want her to hit N.B. at school. Administrators allegedly felt they needed to keep the mother and daughter separated because they saw “fire” in Tamara Taylor’s eyes. The letter describes both accusations as prejudiced and “baseless assumptions.”
After the incident, Tamara Taylor sent a grievance letter on Jan. 13, 2020 to the school and its superintendent, requesting her daughter be transferred to a different school.
“I was stripped of my rights as a parent and my daughter was stripped of her right to protection and representation as a minor. There was no understanding of diversity, African American culture and the presence of police involvement with African-American youth,” Tamara Taylor said in an excerpt of the grievance letter. The letter was included in the ACLU’s letter, which was sent Monday. “My daughter and I are traumatized from these events and sure that there is no future for us at Honowai Elementary. I’m disheartened to know that this day will live with [N.B.] as a memory forever.”
But that’s not all—Tamara Taylor even filed a complaint with the Honolulu Police Department against the three officers who were onsite that day. That complaint was dismissed in September 2020 after the Professional Standards Office concluded there was insufficient evidence to corroborate.
According to ACLU advocates, the actions taken by school and police officials in Hawaii were “extreme and disproportionate.”
Tamara Taylor “expressed some concern about being African American in an encounter with the police” and was worried about her daughter’s safety “in light of the police presence given the high rate of police violence against Black people, and the discriminatory disciplining of Black girls in schools,” the letter said.
It added that both “the mother and daughter were singled out because of their race, both perceived and treated as ‘more dangerous,’ less rational, and less worthy of respect for their rights than the non-Black students and parents involved.”
Additionally, the organization’s letter stated that police officers and education staff failed to acknowledge the child’s disability. Advocates noted that Black girls are often treated like adults by the police. Mateo Caballero, an attorney representing the family, said such situations are “too common and entirely preventable.”
According to a 2017 study conducted by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, Black girls as young as 5 years old are viewed as needing less protection and nurturing than white girls. Numerous cases have been reported in which Black children have been physically assaulted or handcuffed for minor incidents, whereas white girls are left with warnings.
This specific situation was sparked by a drawing that has not been publicly disclosed. According to the ACLU, N.B. had “allegedly participated in drawing an offensive sketch of a student in response to that student bullying her.” According to the letter, N.B. said “she did not want the drawing delivered but one of the other students snatched it from her hands and delivered it anyways.” This resulted in the drawing appearing in the hands of the bully’s parents. What the drawing involved or how it was offensive is unclear.
The ACLU is giving the school and the police until Nov. 8 to respond to their demands. At this time, the Hawaii Department of Education has not commented on the incident, citing pending or active litigation.
According to USA TODAY, following the incident, the child moved with relatives to the U.S. mainland while Tamara Taylor initially stayed behind for her new job with the Department of Defense. At this time, Tamara Taylor has also left Hawaii.
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