By NICK CHILES
We’ve written here before about the dangers children face when schools employ police officers as school safety guards, but the case of Meridian, Mississippi, is about the most outrageous and disheartening example of the inhuman and disrespectful treatment of black children by the criminal justice system that we’ve ever come across.
Meridian set up a school-to-prison pipeline that was sending a steady stream of kids into the city’s juvenile justice system for infractions as minor as wearing the wrong color socks, talking back to a teacher and coming to school without wearing a belt. Kids as young as 10. And all of them black.
Of course, for those with a long memory, Meridian became famous in June 1964 as the home base of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman when they were killed for trying to register blacks to vote.
Yeah, that Meridian.
Things got so bad in Meridian that the federal Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the city last month, as chronicled on Colorlines.com, alleging that the pipeline violates the due process rights of young people by sending them into the criminal justice system without even telling them what were the charges against them.
“[D]efendants engage in a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct through which they routinely and systematically arrest and incarcerate children, including for minor school rule infractions, without even the most basic procedural safeguards, and in violation of these children’s constitutional rights,” the DOJ’s 37-page complaint reads. Meridian’s years of systemic abuse punish youth “so arbitrarily and severely as to shock the conscience,” says the complaint.
Once those children are in the juvenile justice system, they are denied basic constitutional rights, Colorlines wrote of the complaint. They are handcuffed by the police and incarcerated for days without any hearing, and subsequently warehoused in jail without understanding their alleged probation violations.
One can only imagine that the city of Meridian derived some sort of financial benefit from this dramatic increase in the juvenile justice population. But it’s disheartening that adults in this country can treat children so cruelly and coldly, almost as if they aren’t human. We love to play lip service to how much we care about kids, how strongly we believe they represent the future, but from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea and many places in between, when you look too closely at the fine print what you see is a nation that almost seems to hold young people in contempt. In Meridian, apparently young people are walking dollar signs. Especially the ones with brown faces.
Just reading the Department of Justice report can make you rush to the bathroom to vomit. It is unconscionable. If I were a torts attorney, I’d want to file a massive lawsuit on behalf of every child who passed through the halls of a Meridian school. By the time I was done, they’d have to just hand the keys to the city over to young folks. They’d probably do a better job running it anyway.
“It was mind-boggling,” said Gloria Green, whose son was locked up so often in 8th grade that he was held back. “My son loved school and to be kicked out as much as he was, one year he just couldn’t catch up.”
“We did everything we know to do. I went over to the school and got make-up work, and he still failed two subjects and at that point I didn’t know which way what my child was going to go.”
In its suit, the Department of Justice charged the city’s police department with operating a de facto “taxi service,” shuttling students away from school and into youth jails.
1. Police Officers in School? A Recipe for Student Failure
2. Dozens Of Children Serving Life In Prison—How Do We Let This Happen?
3. The American Obsession with Imprisonment is a National Shame—and a Parent’s Nightmare
4. I Am Troy Davis And You Are, Too: Pondering the Death Penalty, Reasonable Doubt & Black Men