Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Growing Police State: Logical Ends Edition

It's been mentioned here before that we, as a society, have decided that school children are not US Citizens; that, indeed, they are not even human beings.  We deprive them of rights that we extend to terrorists, let alone suspected criminals and ordinary citizens.  This idea, even if never expressly stated, or even if rejected when voiced, is prevalent in our society, and how we deal with children.  And it has consequences.

Federal Authorities are charging two judges on the Lauderdale County, Mississippi, Youth Court, as well as unnamed (in the linked report) "state, county, and local officials in Meridian."  Their crime?  Depriving children of their constitutional rights.

The specific charge is that the Youth Court was operating a "school-to-prison pipeline," throwing them in jail for school-related disciplinary issues.  Mentioned only at the end of the CNN report is the fact that incarceration is part of the student's parole.  Apparently, students in violation of the law are given parole, one of the conditions of that parole is that they will serve any suspension from school in jail. 

Now, we can debate the merits of that parole policy.  We can say, "hey, that really doesn't sound that unreasonable," or, "they what?!"  And that's probably a good discussion, especially for those in Lauderdale County, to have.  But I have a different point.

As demonstrated here previously, the basic assumption regarding children in school is that they have no constitutional rights.  Unannounced, random (that: no probable cause) searches of children's lockers and cars, for those who happen to drive to school, are routinely accepted.  Apparently simply wanting to be in the band ranks as probable cause for having the sanctity of your person violated in the form of random drug testing.  In-school discipline does not presume innocence until guilt is proved, and refusal to self-incriminate can get the same, or sometimes worse, punishment than the presumed offense.  It shapes every day of life for children in public schools.

To make matters worse, schools are now punishing children with in-school penalties for behavior conducted on their own time and off of school property.  Children are being suspended and they are being removed from extra curricular activities for a variety of offenses.  And this unrelated punishment is being supported by parents (often well-meaning) and the legal system.

So it is hardly surprising that a legal system which allows such treatment and low regard would then use the same underlying philosophical foundations to justify removing children's constitutional rights outside of school.  By the logic above, there is no magic line between a child's school life and their out-of-school life, which allows behavior in one (out-of-school) to accrue penalties in the other (in-school).  Well, if that is true, then it stands to reason that it is a two-way street.  If behavior out of school can get a child an in-school punishment, then it is only reasonable that behavior in school can get a child an out-of-school punishment. 

It does no good simply to be outraged about it.  The logical foundation is solid, if not unassailable.  You cannot simply assert that children are not human while they're inside the school walls, but they are outside them.  Which means the answer is not one of punishment, but one of philosophy. 

We must fundamentally change our understanding of children in school.  They are human.  They should be extended the same rights as any other human in the United States.  The 14th Amendment applies to them as much as it does to anyone else, which means they do have free speech rights.  They do have protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.  They do have the presumption of innocence and protection against self-incrimination.

If we are not willing to extend them those basic human rights, then we cannot complain when other deprive them still further.

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