Bob Herbert writes:
Michael Soguero was a first-rate principal at Bronx Guild High School. He loved his job, and he loved teaching in New York. He has not blamed the New York City Police Department for his departure to a school in Estes Park, Colo. Nevertheless, the facts are the facts.
Back on Feb. 3, 2005, a student came running into Mr. Soguero’s office at Bronx Guild to say that a police officer was in a classroom. “I jumped up and ran to the classroom,” Mr. Soguero told me in an interview last week. “I found this officer, Gonzalez, exchanging words with a female student.
“Everyone is sitting down except for the teacher and these two. The girl was saying, ‘What did I do? What are you talking to me about?’ ”
What was about to unfold was another episode of bizarrely excessive police activity inside a New York City public school.
The girl, who was 16, had apparently uttered a curse word in a hallway. While that is undoubtedly inappropriate behavior, it is hardly a criminal offense. The police officer, Juan Gonzalez, who was part of a security task force assigned to the school, had followed the girl into the classroom.
Mr. Soguero quieted things down and asked the officer to leave the room, which he did. “I got the girl to sit down and I told her I would talk to her later to address this,” Mr. Soguero said. He thought the crisis was over.
Not so. When Soguero walked out of the classroom, the police officer was still standing there, waiting for the girl. He – officer Gonzales – told Soguero that he wanted to arrest the girl. Soguero obviously did not agree with that and told the officer that he would not allow that to happen. Officer Gonzales ignored Soguero and walked into the classroom, pushing aside tables, and students, grabbing the student’s arm and reaching back to grab his cuffs. “At that moment,” Soguero explains, “I walked around him and physically stood in between the two of them.”
Officer Gonzales did not, however, back down. Instead he arrested the girl, principal Soguero and an aide who wanted to help Soguero. Once they were arrested, the three were paraded before ‘in front of news photographers in a humiliating “perp walk”.’ Police Commissioner Ray Kelly even had the guts to say that ‘The principal was simply wrong.’
As Herbert points out, there is one little problem with the police commisioner’s statement: no crime was committed “and the charges were later dropped.” More: police now tell Bob Herbert that officer Gonzales is something of a problem
childcop. His guns and badge have been taken away a while ago, and he is currently on “modified assignment.”
The sad thing, however, that this is not an isolated incident. According to Herbert, these things happen more often than most people think. Police harass students and teachers quite often, and even abuse them and arrest them for, frankly, absolutely nothing. Especially, again according to Herbert, Latino and Black students are often the victims of too, umh, active police officers.
Frankly, I consider it to be ludicrous that police officers are parading in schools. This sounds like a completely different world to me. In the Netherlands, we do not have anything quite like it. I understand that if it truly is necessary, one could check people at the door on the possession of guns, knives, etc., but to have police officers working literally in schools, sounds a bit extreme to me.
My question to you, therefore, is: how normal is this in the US?
I also wonder why having them patrol outside and checking people at the entrance is not enough. This must be quite a frustrating job for those police officers as well. They are trained to fight crime, to deal with true criminals, instead they have become nannies.