Yesterday, a five year old in Queens was handcuffed and dragged to a psych ward by police after acting out in class.


He’s 5 years old. He was scared to death,” Dennis Rivera’s mother, Jasmina Vasquez, told the Daily News. “You cannot imagine what it’s done to him.”

Dennis – who suffers from speech problems, asthma and attention deficit disorder – never went back to class at Public School 81 in Queens after the traumatic incident.


His mom and a school source said Dennis threw a tantrum inside the Ridgewood school at 11 a.m. on Jan. 17.


This problem escapes national attention because Americans are conditioned to rationalize people of color as being meant for prison from birth, and therefore there’s little outrage over treating a five year old child like a criminal if he or she is black or Latino. Bob Herbert wrote several columns about this trend in public education last year, after a 16-year old in the Bronx was handcuffed and treated like a common criminal for…cursing. When her teacher and another school official tried to interfere, they were all arrested.


The angry officer, according to Mr. Soguero, barged past him and into the classroom. “I followed him,” said Mr. Soguero, “and he’s pushing desks aside, walking through students to get at her, disrupting everything. She’s sitting in a chair. He grabs her arm, her left arm with his right hand, and he’s reaching back to grab his cuffs. At that point I walked around him and physically stood in between the two of them.”

This sort of thing, the police wildly overreacting to behavior by schoolkids that is not criminal, happens much more often than most New Yorkers realize. Officer Gonzalez behaved as if he were rounding up the James gang. He arrested the girl. He arrested Mr. Soguero. And he arrested a school aide who had tried to come to the principal’s defense.

Mr. Soguero was handcuffed in full view of everyone — students, teachers, staff — and marched out of the school. Later the police paraded him in front of news photographers in a humiliating “perp walk.”


Bob Herbert mentioned the incident was listed in a study done by the NYCLU that finds the criminalizing of high school kids for trivial incidents is far more common than it should be. While the study focuses on high school, the incident with Dennis Rivera shows that the problem extends beyond high schools.

The children most likely to attend a school where they can be treated like a criminal in a prison rather than a student in a school tend to be poorer and not white.

Part of this is that the school system has given up on these kids, and these schools often end up not being schools but overcrowded warehouses for human beings the city doesn’t want to deal with. The appearance of order in the city’s schools takes precedent over educating its students. These institutions offer tremendous dropout rates; the NYCLU study states that the vast majority schools with metal detectors, 70% of them have dropout rates of more than 60%.

They don’t want to teach these kids. They just want to stick them somewhere they can control (police?) them until they turn 18 or drop out, whichever comes first.

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