Back in November of 2016, John Benji Haygood, an autistic 10-year-old, kicked a teacher. Six months later, the police showed up to arrest him, putting him in handcuffs and taking him away in the back of a police cruiser.
As the parent of an autistic 9-year-old (as of this coming Friday) myself, I can say with some authority that this is insane. Even removing autism from the equation, this is insane. Arresting children is insane. America is insane. We, as a people, are insane. There is absolutely nothing about this that is not insane.
Let’s start with the notion that a 10-year-old can be arrested for kicking a teacher. In most states, we decided a long time ago that we were not comfortable letting teachers hit children. Florida still allows it (as do 18 other states) but, by and large, it’s frowned upon. Yet, we allow children to be handcuffed and dragged away like criminals for a kick? How does that make sense? Spanking is abuse but arrest is….what, therapeutic?
Calling the parents in for a meeting is a more appropriate response. Suspension is not out of line (which, in fact, occurred). Expulsion as a last resort? Maybe. Arrest? Nah. That’s fucking insane.
And then there’s John himself. I was a really large 10-year-old with the size and strength of a teen. If I kicked a teacher, maybe, maybe, a case could be made that I was a threat to the teacher’s safety and I had to be dealt with. But here’s a screencap from the video John’s mother made while he was being arrested:
It’s blurry but John is clearly about as physically threatening as most 10-year-olds are, which is to say not at all. But there he is in handcuffs being taken away for something that happened 6 months ago. Our completely insane society is now safe from this dangerous roughly 75 pound twig of a child. And this leads us to the next insane part of this story: Seriously, the “incident” happened 6 months ago.
Here’s what took them so long to arrest John:
Deputies say there weren’t able to serve the warrant until Wednesday at school, which was John Benji’s first day back for testing since he had been out on suspension and then homebound.
Just to be clear, we can arrest children at school but not at home? Yeah, that’s still insane no matter how you look at it. Oh, and here’s a blatant lie if I’ve ever heard one:
The sheriff’s office claims no one knew the child is on the autism spectrum.
If that is true, then pretty much everyone involved should lose their jobs; from the teacher to the principal to the staff that is supposed to be advocating for John to the police that heard the mother tell them the child they were about to put in handcuffs is autistic. How is that not the very first thing reported? How did the principal not jump in front of his or her student and demand the police leave him alone? How did the cops not hear “autism” and immediately reconsider the arrest?
And this is the single most insane part of this story: John is autistic. And some autistic people are emotionally disturbed, sometimes having trouble controlling their temper. That’s just a reality we have to acknowledge and deal with. My son is fortunately not among this group but my nephew is/was. As a young child, he would have violent outbursts that he couldn’t control. With a lot of therapy and work, he learned that control and he did it without being arrested. Lucky him or just unlucky John?
I understand that a lot of people don’t understand autism but you know what? Everyone has heard of it by now, including the two cops that arrested John. You’d have to live under a rock inside a cave at the bottom of the ocean not to know something about autism. Even if the police were grossly misinformed and thought “autism” was synonymous with “mental retardation”, that should still have made them stop and reconsider what they were about to do.
But America is insane so no such luck. We have trained our police force to “just follow orders”. We have schools that treat autism as a danger. We have created a system that permits children to be handcuffed and arrested. We are failing on every conceivable level to build a better society, focusing instead on criminalizing everything, including small children and those with special needs. We are an insane and broken society and we are on a slippery slope to a very bad ending.
The worst part about this is that I couldn’t help thinking, “At least they didn’t try to shoot him.”
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I’m a stay at home dad, father to a special needs son and a special daughter, a donor baby daddy, a militantly pragmatic liberal, the president of the PTA, a hardcore geek and nerd and I’m going to change the world. Or at least my corner of it.