It seems to me that this nation places too much value on rites and rituals and not enough on substantive issues. When an eleven-year-old child is arrested … yes, arrested by police … for exercising his right to free speech by refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance, something has gone awry with our values as a nation.
It all began on the morning of February 4th, when a young boy at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Polk County, Florida, refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance. The boy had refused to stand for the pledge for the entire school year, and had written permission from his mother to do so. But on this day there was a substitute teacher, Ana Alvarez. When Ms. Alvarez asked the boy why he didn’t stand, he told her he believes the pledge represents racism. Ms. Alvarez’ responded …
“Why if it was so bad here you do not go to another place to live.”
And when the boy replied, “They brought me here,” Alvarez said …
“Well you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba and the day I feel I’m not welcome here anymore I would find another place to live.”
Perhaps Ms. Alvarez forgot she was talking to an 11-year-old child who has neither the autonomy nor the means to choose his own place to live?
“Then I had to call the office because I did not want to continue dealing with him.”
A school resource officer with the Lakeland Police Department eventually responded to the classroom and arrested the boy. Arrested a child. An African-American child who did not break any law. According to a statement by Polk County Public Schools, the child “became disruptive” and “refused to follow instructions.” Excuse me, but the boy is eleven years old! He was no doubt frightened and felt threatened! He was not an adult who might have been able to understand and deal with the situation in a moderated voice!
This case, naturally, brings to mind that of Colin Kaepernick who was unduly ostracized and penalized for exercising his first amendment right to refuse to stand for the national anthem. If Colin Kaepernick had been Caucasian, would the results have been different? If this 11-year-old boy had been Caucasian, would the results have been different? We will never know for sure, but my best guess is that yes, in both cases the refusal to stand would have been largely overlooked.
On Tuesday, Brian Haas, the state attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit in Florida, said that his office would not prosecute the boy despite statements by the police that he had made threats after disrupting class. “The case is closed,” Mr. Haas said.
However, the boy’s mother, understandably, is not satisfied, nor is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Dhakira Talbot, the lad’s mother, declined an offer from prosecutors on Monday to drop the case if the boy completed a so-called diversion program, which could include a fine and community service. She has obtained an attorney who plans to file a civil-rights complaint with the federal Department of Education this week.
A personal note here. Throughout my childhood I refused steadfastly to stand for the pledge or to engage in the morning prayer that was requisite in the Catholic schools I attended. The nuns did not like it and more than a few times I was smacked on the hands and even the head with the metal edge of a ruler (Catholic schools in the 1950s were notorious for corporal punishment). But, being the stubborn girl I was even back then, I did not give in. AND … I did not get arrested. I seriously doubt that calling the police ever crossed their minds!
According to the New York Times article from February 19th …
Across the country, black students are disciplined more often and face harsher consequences than their white peers. At Lawton Chiles Middle Academy, black students made up 17 percent of the student body last school year but represented 39 percent of disciplinary actions, according to data from the Florida Department of Education.
Systemic racism. Perhaps the biggest shame of this nation. And an 11-year-old boy has suffered an experience he will never forget. He has been shown, first-hand, that black people are treated with less respect, less dignity than those with pale skin. What lasting effect will this incident have on a young child’s life? There is no way to know, but we can rest assured that it will colour his views for the rest of his life.