Anger as 10-year-old girl handcuffed and taken from school in police car over ‘upsetting' painting

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Officials at Honowai Elementary School, Hawaii called in the police over a school yard dispute which resulted in the wrongful arrest of a 10-year-old Black girl (Honowai Elementary/Facebook)

A 10-year-old disabled Black girl was handcuffed and arrested in 2020 from her school by the Hawaii police over an “offensive sketch,” sparking anger from rights activists.

The Hawaii branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Caballero Law LLLC, a civil-rights advocacy group, wrote to Hawaii’s police department, the state’s education department and the state attorney general’s office on Monday, demanding reforms against discrimination and excessive force.

The letter referred to a 2020 incident in which officials of the Honowai Elementary School received a complaint from a parent about a sketch drawn by a young girl, allegedly of students who had bullied her.

The activists alleged that school officials, on the insistence of the parent, called the police, who then interrogated the girl, handcuffed her using “excessive force,” and took her to a police station in a squad car without letting her speak to her mother.

These “traumatising actions,” according to the letter, were taken by the officials despite the young girl being cooperative and her disability being documented in school.

The school and police officials also detained the young girl’s mother Tamara Taylor when she reached the school premises. Ms Taylor was not allowed to meet her daughter and only found out later that she was being taken to the police station, the letter said.

The 10-year-old was released to her mother at the police precinct after four hours in custody in school and the police station.

The letter accused the school and police officials of discrimination on the grounds of race and singling out a Black mother and her daughter over a regular schoolyard dispute.

The incident left the 10-year-old so traumatised that she moved schools before the end of the school year and eventually left the state as well.

“There was no understanding of diversity, African-American culture and the history of police involvement with African-American youth. My daughter and I are traumatised from these events and I’m disheartened to know that this day will live with my daughter forever,” said Ms Taylor in a statement released by the ACLU along with the letter.

The civil rights organisation also said this was not the first instance of abuse by the police inside a school premise, something that prompted them to write the letter and demand a change of policy to end the pattern of misconduct by the police.

In their letter, Ms Taylor and the ACLU demanded that police not be called in to school unless there is a threat of significant harm, and that children should not be interrogated for potentially criminal behaviour in the absence of a parent or school teacher.

“That they felt empowered to treat a Black mother and her 10-year-old daughter with no regard for their civil rights and liberties should be troubling to all of us,” said Mateo Caballero of Caballero Law LLLC.

ACLU has given the police and school authorities time till 8 November to file a response.

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