Differences As Plain As Black And White
Back on April 13th of this year, the police in Milledgeville, Georgia managed to create a national controversy for their self after they handcuffed a six year old kindergartner and took her to the city jail for throwing a temper tantrum in school. According to police, when Selicia Johnson began tearing items off the walls in the principal’s office at the school she attended and started tossing around furniture on Friday, the school called emergency operators for assistance. When the police arrived, the six year old girl resisted the officer’s attempts to calm her down in the principal’s office and threw a shelf at the principal’s leg. School officials said that the police were called in to assist due to safety concerns for Selicia, other classmates and the school staff. The girl was subsequently placed in heavy duty steel handcuffs, the kind used to restrain men who beat their wives, murderers, and other hardened criminals, and the girl was taken away by police.
When Selicia’s aunt picked her up from the police station later that day, Selicia was being kept in a holding cell. The little girl complained that the handcuffs were too tight and hurt her wrists. The little girl found the experience horrifying and devastating. The parents and other relatives of the little girl said that while she may have misbehaved they asked the question was her behavior so abhorrent to the point where it was necessary for her to be handcuffed and taken to the police department.
The only thing we know about the incident was that the girl tore items off the principal’s wall and threw furniture. She was six years old. How big and heavy was this furniture that was being thrown? Did she turn green, grow overdeveloped muscles that would do a bodybuilder proud, grow larger than life, referred to herself as the Hulk and threatened to smash everybody and everything? Highly unlikely. If the school needed help how come they didn’t call the girl’s parents or relatives instead of calling the police and creating a controversy that was totally avoidable? It’s a fair bet that the parents would have been much more successful in calming the little girl down than a police officer itching to pull out his handcuffs.
Milledgeville Police chief Dray Swicord defended the police action with an announcement that it was department policy that any detainee transported to the police station in a patrol vehicle is to be handcuffed in the back and there was no age discrimination on that rule. If he wanted to prove his point, he should’ve pointed to all the other incidents where the police handcuffed a six year old and took them to jail for having a temper tantrum. Unfortunately, he couldn’t because this incident was the first of its kind and marked a new low for the professionalism of his department. Initially, Selicia was to be charged with juvenile assault and criminal damage to property. However, somebody at the Milledgeville police station came to their senses and ultimately decided not to file charges against the little girl due to her age. According to a criminal defense attorney, filing charges against Selicia would blatantly ignore years of precedent which says that children cannot form intent at such a young age. And it was just a coincidence that little Selicia was black.
Compare the official response to six year old Selicia to another incident that happened, albeit a few decades ago.
In 1965 John Lauber was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality in his junior year at the prestigious Cranbrook School. When he changed his look so that he walked around the all boys school with long bleached blond hair that draped over one eye, it was more than some of his fellow students could handle. One incensed student, the eighteen year old son of Michigan Governor George Romney, complained that something had to be done about the walking eyesore that threatened their sense of conformity. The Governor’s son concocted a plan. A few days later, with the help of several friends, Mitt Romney walked out of his dorm room shouting about a plan to cut John Lauber’s hair. When they came upon John they tackled him, pinned him to the ground, and as his eyes filled with tears while he screamed for help, Mitt Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
The incident was recalled by the other attackers who gave their account of what led to the shaming of John Lauber independently of each another. One of the attackers went on to become a dentist, another became a lawyer, a third became a prosecutor, and another became a principal. They described the incident as something senseless, stupid, idiotic, and vicious. Each expressed remorse about their participation. Days after the incident, all were guilt ridden and waited to see what form of discipline would befall them at the famously strict institution. The incident had the potential of being a hate crime. But nothing happened. And the son of the Governor himself went on to become a Governor and the conservative’s best hope for a return to the White House.
Growing up in a world of privilege young Mitt Romney was protected from himself. He could initiate an assault on a defenseless student and walk away without so much as the slightest blemish on his record. In fact, he doesn’t even recall the incident that his bullying buddies remember so well. Mr. Romney went further to say that even though he doesn’t remember that assault taking place, he can say that it wasn’t because John Lauber displayed homosexual like behavior. Which begs the question, how can Mr. Romney not recall the event but defend it at the same time?
Little Selicia isn’t the daughter of the Governor. Her parents aren’t privileged and she doesn’t attend a prestigious school well known for strict adherence to the rules except when the Governor’s son is involved. She was just a little black girl having a bad day with the manifestation of a temper tantrum that sent her to jail at the prepubescent age of six. It’s a fair bet that if she misbehaves sometime in the future somebody won’t bother to fight the urge to call the police on her again. Her record of jail time will come up and that’s all the justification somebody will need to throw the book at her. She would be considered a perpetual nuisance and the strong arm of the law will come down on her like Mitt Romney coming down on a potentially gay student.
If the roles were reversed and it was little Mitt Romney that was six years old and throwing a tantrum by tearing a principal’s bulletin board down and using all his might to hurl furniture across the room, would anyone bother to call the police on him? Chances are the answer would be a resounding no. Privilege makes people care about the outcome of things. Who gives a shit about a little six year old black girl whose parents are nobodies? But the eighteen year old son of the Governor? That’s a totally different ball game. That boy’s future is at stake and we can’t allow anything to interfere with that despite his abhorrent behavior.
See the difference? One is protected from his self at the ripe age of eighteen, not quite mature enough to take on all of the responsibilities of being adult, but old enough to understand right from wrong and actions have consequences. The other is six years old and is punished severely for not having the foresight to think about their actions just a few years out of diapers and being weaned. One has a bright future that includes a shot at being President of the United States. The other has a future that will have a record of a brief stint in jail for throwing a tantrum. One is black and the other is white and the two are worlds apart.