Are You Smarter Than a 10-Year-Old?
June 2, 2022
As soon as the media narrative began to hone in on the police response (or lack thereof) in Uvalde, Sheriff Carmine Marceno of Lee County, Florida — “The Law & Order Sheriff” — announced his “Safe Kids, Safe Schools” initiative. “America, wake up,” he begins, standing like Robert Palmer in front of his dancing girls – who in this case are three uniformed sheriff’s deputies and three SWAT deputies decked out with assault-style rifles and balaclavas. Nothing says America and freedom like law enforcement afraid to show their faces.
Sheriff Carmine’s performance manages to reference government spending on the war in Ukraine – a big right-wing talking point – and uses exaggerated hand gestures as if he went to mime school. “In Lee County, Florida, we have warriors,” he intones. “It doesn’t matter if you are a libertarian, a Republican, or a no-party affiliate. This is a human issue.” (Democrats, socialists, and communists are presumably locked up.) “We don’t wait one second…We are going to kill them. We’re not going to hesitate.” He then says anyone who criticizes him is a “hater” whose vote he doesn’t want. “We will kill anyone who tries to hurt our children.”
Alongside the official 8-minute video that is devoid of actual information, Marceno published a TikTok with the same crew. Using the same forced hand gestures from a Toastmasters training — and the same too-tight shirt — Marceno says, "We are going to kill you. Because you can't kill evil enough!" The musical accompaniment is Journey. Synth trac Journey.
The next day, Marceno’s new initiative appeared to make a successful arrest – deputies arrested a 10-year-old for making an alleged threat (it appears to have been a text message) to commit school violence. The arrest was announced with fanfare, with a mug shot of the boy and video of his arrest – a perp walk, handcuffed, to an awaiting police vehicle. (It is legal in Florida to post juvenile mug shots; according to Jessica Schulberg at Huffington Post, Marceno has done this before, even though experts agree that publishing mugshots does lasting damage to a person’s online reputation and ability to get employment in the future.)
Marceno bravely did not mince words. He called the alleged threat “sickening.” He went on Fox News to talk about it. And he posted the boy’s name, birthday, mugshot and full video of the boy’s impassive face (which most news stations, even Fox, blurred), with a self-congratulatory message.
Making sure our children are safe is paramount. We will have law and order in our schools! My team didn’t hesitate one second…NOT ONE SECOND, to investigate this threat.
Meanwhile, when the NY Post, that bastion of ethics worry-warts, contacted the boy’s father, he couldn’t stop crying and asked to be left alone.
Marceno became sheriff in 2018 when Governor Rick Scott appointed him to replace retiring 4-term Sheriff Mike Scott. Before this fortuitous appointment, Marceno was Scott’s undersheriff. And before that, Marceno was a Long Island “parks cop” with friends like Sean Hannity in high places. (Hannity called Marceno a “dear friend”; Marceno made Hannity an “honorary deputy.” Does that mean Hannity is also sworn to protect school children?) In 1999, perhaps having reached the apex of that NY life available to park cops, Marceno moved to Florida, worked in a tanning salon, and became a cop.
Even though Marceno hasn’t been in office long, he’s already struggled with his public reputation. In addition to multiple ethics complaints for sketchy campaign spending and insufficient law enforcement training, Marceno has been accused of threatening his mistress so she would get an abortion. (There have been calls for him to resign because of the questions over his certification.)
He also started a very expensive drug task force that employed a deputy who planted drugs on someone in order to arrest them. According to the Washington Post, the deputy made this fake arrest “in exchange for sexual favors and a trip to Europe.” The deputy was arrested.
Going by the comments on Facebook, troublingly, the people are viciously against the young boy and very much in favor of the sheriff.
Even so-called “progressive” anti-gun groups posted news articles about the boy – many of which gave his name and showed him being arrested – as evidence of a threat to schools.
Here’s the thing: police in schools (often called School Resource Officers and often run by the county sheriffs’ office) do not keep kids safe. SROs definitely ensure that more kids get arrested – mostly youth of color – and they do increase the number of young people shuttled through the school-to-prison pipeline.
We’ve known this for years. A 2012 Department of Education study also “found that over 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement are Hispanic or African-American, despite making up significantly less of the student population.” In 2016, a federal report found that “black K-12 students are 3.8 times as likely as white students to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions and 1.9 times as likely to be expelled.”
SROs remain justified as a measure to protect kids from school shootings. But they don’t.
Cops in schools were originally part of “zero tolerance” policies that proliferated in light of the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994. (States also have their own statutes that mandate reporting certain types of incidents to the police.) The new federal regulation required schools that got federal funding to suspend kids who brought guns to school for at least a year. To do so, schools needed cops to surveil, search, and question kids. All of these school cops were also funded through the federal government’s COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program. After 9-11, that funding was diverted to other policing priorities, and many school districts had to fund their own programs.
Despite all of the federal support, there is no research to show that SROs reduce school shootings or violence. While there was a reduction in “crime” in schools – this includes stuff like theft and vandalism – there’s nothing to show it was about SROs. And when it comes to shootings, there’s nothing.
SROs are also astronomically expensive and divert resources that kids actually need, like counseling and, you know, supplies. (One teacher said this week that if she were given a weapon by the school district, she would sell it for actual school supplies.) A 2016 White House report details how schools that have more punitive policies also have the least funding for support. (Texas is at the bottom of per-student-spending, natch.) Kids of color are “roughly 20 and 40 percent more likely to be one of the 1.6 million students who attend a school where there is a school law enforcement officer but no guidance counselor.” (The ACLU says Texas has 434 students to every 1 counselor.)
To be sure, it is alarming when anyone of any age threatens violence. But the evidence shows that so-called “copycat” threats are common after such a mass catastrophe. Children have been exposed to this violence vicariously, just like everyone else. I see lots of news stories advising adults how to “detox” from the news and indulge in “self-care.” But what about kids? Where is their self-care? In the same way, the current systems throw children into danger and then expect them to deal with it, kids – especially kids of color – are told to deal with their feelings, but then are punished when they run afoul of “the law.”
If the tragedy in Uvalde taught us anything, it should be to view what law enforcement says with skepticism. The police in Uvalde did not keep kids safe. Why should we think arrests keep kids safe? Law enforcement as an institution has a unique ability to play on the forgetful, fearful minds of the public. They are quick to suggest solutions and urge us to see failures in policing as aberrations. The police response in Uvalde is not an aberration; it is the norm. We should not believe the cops now – especially when they have given us no good reason to do so.