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Going Postal / February 23, 2010

alexa gonzalez

File this under “Seriously Fucked Up”: While most of America has been hiding under the covers afraid they might have to confront the ghost of Joe Stack, shooing him away by pretending he was something else–“He was a Tea Bagger!”/”He was a liberal!”/”No he was a psychopath!”–anything to avoid seriously talking about how profound and how widely popular his suicide-dive-bombing was…here’s a story that’s a little easier to chew on. It comes to you live from Kiddie Land, where there’s a war on pitting thousands of police and the full force of the law Surging against pre-pubescent doodlers, food-throwers, and tardy students.

Earlier this month, at a New York junior high school, a 12-year-old girl named Alexa Gonzalez pulled out a green magic marker during class, and doodled, “I love my friends Abby and Faith.” The teacher sent her to the principal, who promptly called the “Zero Tolerance” police. The next thing Alexa knew, New York City’s finest burst into the principal’s office, pulled the girl’s arms behind her back, cuffed her, and frog-marched across the quad, so that all her fellow students and teachers could see her bawling her eyes out on her way to the police station. That’ll teach her.

Alexa is a much better person for it, as reported on CNN:

“They put the handcuffs on me, and I couldn’t believe it,” Alexa recalled. “I didn’t want them to see me being handcuffed, thinking I’m a bad person.”Alexa Gonzalez missed three days of school because of her arrest.

She spent those days throwing up, and it was a challenge to catch up on her homework when she returned to school, she said. Her mother says she had never been in trouble before the doodling incident.

Throwing up and traumatized–sounds kind of like what you’d expect from a Guantanamo Bay inmate who’s not cooperating. But America isn’t in its most imaginative–or smart–mood these days, so I guess the thinking is, “Works well in Abu Ghraib, why fix somethin’ that ain’t broke.”

For New York City’s school system, that translates into Surging with an additional 5,000 truancy cops whose job is to root out doodlerists and truants and the like. Unfortunately, with all the budget problems, paying all those cops–poorly trained cops, I might add–means no money left for school counselors, who number just 3,000, or almost half the number of these new counter-doodling cops.

Alexa isn’t the first doodler-terrorist they’ve neutralized. In 2007, NYC cops arrested a 13-year-old girl, Chelsea Fraser, for doodling “Okay” on her desk. Within minutes, Operation Zero Tolerance swung into action:

Fraser was arrested at the Dyker Heights Intermediate School on March 30 along with three other male students. She says she was made to empty her pockets and take off her belt. Then she was handcuffed and led out of the school in front of her classmates and placed in the back of a police car.

“It was really embarrassing because some of the kids, they talk, and they’re going to label me as a bad kid. But I’m really not,” Fraser said. “I didn’t know writing ‘Okay’ would get me arrested.”

“All the kids were … watching these three boys and my daughter being marched out with four — they had four police officers — walking them out, handcuffed,” [her mother] Silva said. “She goes to me, ‘Mommy, these hurt!'”

[She was] taken to the 68th Precinct station house where Silva says they were separated for three hours. “My child is 13-years-old — doesn’t it stand that I’m supposed to be present for any questioning?” Silva said. “I’m watching my daughter, she’s handcuffed to the pole. I ask the officer has she been there the entire time? She says, ‘Yes.'”

The ACLU told CNN about several other doodling-arrests which they are now fighting with a class-action lawsuit. Almost as shocking is the story of a school teacher who was arrested while trying to help one of his students whom the teacher thought was being far too roughly handled. Police arrested the teacher and charged him with assault, although they later dropped those charges.

That’s fine for teachers. But kids can’t be shown any mercy, whether we’re talking about doodling, or food fights. A couple weeks ago in Chicago, police mass-arrested 25 students aged 11-15 following a school cafeteria food fight:

More than two dozen students were slapped with criminal charges in connection with a food fight in the cafeteria at a Chicago charter school. 

“The next thing you know I saw a tray fly up in the air, and then I saw an orange fly,” student Jordan Grevious said. ‘Then, I heard the words ‘food fight.'”

But instead of Animal House, these kids are facing the Hot House. And they know it:

They fear some of the kids will have a tough time getting a job or applying for college until their misdemeanor reckless-conduct charge disappears from their records. They’ll appear in court Nov. 30. 

“These kids are going to have records for things that they potentially did not even do,” parent Monique Greene complained. “Twenty-seven children up here for a food fight.”

Even the innocent students will face lasting consequences. If the charges are dropped, juvenile records can’t be expunged until the accused becomes 17. Parents are worried this could affect future jobs and college applications.

It’s all part of a meatheaded Zero Tolerance campaign used to terrorize school kids all over the country, part of what’s making this country a meaner place to grow up in. Zero Tolerance doesn’t work, of course. The school shootings in middle-class schools still go on with clockwork regularity, fueled in part by the Zero Tolerance mentality.

Zero Tolerance is worse than a failure; it’s taking a bad situation and making worse, locking both students into what two studies are calling a “Schoolhouse-To-Jailhouse pipeline“:

zero-tolerance policies “are derailing students from an academic track in schools to a future in the juvenile justice system”

this schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track has damaged a generation of children, particularly children of color, by criminalizing trivial offenses and pushing children out of the school system into the juvenile justice system and introducing prison-like secure environments, with drug-sniffing dogs, metal detectors and uniformed law enforcement personnel, thus turning schools into prisons.

And of course, if you feed more and more doodlers and tater-tot tossers into the prison pipeline, that means you produce more and more criminals; and if you create more criminals, well, you gotta do something about all those criminals hitting the streets. Which means: hiring more cops, and training them to attack and pacify any school that’s threatened–like this exercise recently held in Avoca, New York:

Authorities say with school violence on the rise, being prepared for any situation is key.

On Friday, Steuben County law enforcement officers took part of a mock school shooting drill at Avoca High School.  The purpose: in case of an emergency, local law enforcement officials in Steuben County want to make sure they are prepared.

“When we get there and have an active shooter we can’t wait for a SWAT team to come. We can’t.  We have to go in then and have to know who is going in right or left and how we are going to contain the situation,” says Steuben County Sheriff Joel Ordway.

It’s so insanely counter-intuitive that it borders on black comedy. Or just bad comedy. But that’s how we like doin’ things ’round here these days. The more something fails, the more it will be favored–whether it’s a bank, a pundit, or a policy on doodling and food fights.

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.

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51 Comments

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  • 1. angelito  |  January 14th, 2014 at 6:11 am

    police shouldnt arrest innocent kids that doodle pppl get bored sometimes it shouldnt be a crime.but they should get school penalties like detention and so on


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