A few days ago, The Washington Post shared an article about two cops in Montgomery County, Maryland, who have just been part of a lawsuit stemming from their actions on January 14, 2020. A five year old boy at East Silver Spring Elementary School had a meltdown shortly after lunch. He became upset and threw a clipboard at a teacher and a fellow student. Then he ran out of the classroom, outside of the school, and toward a congested section of Silver Spring, Maryland. Having been to Silver Spring myself, I know that this is basically a suburb of Washington, DC, and there’s a lot of traffic.
School officials called the police, and officers Kevin Christmon and Dionne Holliday arrived on the scene. They quickly located the boy, who was hiding nearby. At first, the cops were pleasant toward the boy, but when he refused to cooperate with him, the police officers became very controlling and, many would say, abusive. Christmon’s voice turns stern as he demands that the boy look at him, then asks why he’s out of school. When the boy doesn’t willingly emerge from his hiding spot, Christmon grabs him by the arm and yanks him toward the other officer. The boy starts screaming “No, no, no, no…” as the police order him into the back of their squad car. By that point, an assistant principal had arrived, and managed to get the boy to calm down enough to get into the car.
Bodycam footage was released on Friday, hence the news article I read. I watched the raw footage, and I was pretty shocked by the way those “peace officers” were berating that child. According to the Washington Post, the following exchange occurred:
“I don’t wanna to go,” [the boy] said, his voice shaking and coughing.
“I don’t care!” the officer replied. “You don’t make that decision for yourself!”
Holliday spoke to the child through an open door. “Does your momma spank you?” she asked, adding, “I’m going to ask her if I can do it.”
Naturally, the harsh words and threats served to upset the boy even more. He screamed and cried. The officers described his behavior as “headstrong” and “defiant”. Christmon said that he felt his actions were justified, because the boy was being “non-compliant.” Holliday said that she threatened him to “get him to shut up.” Both officers screamed at the boy, trying to overpower his screams with their voices. At one point, Holliday “primal screams” a couple of inches from the boy’s face, which only served to cause him to scream louder.
At one point, Officer Christman holds the boy down in the chair for 80 seconds. Later, Christmon puts a handcuff on the boy’s wrist and tells him that handcuffs are what people who don’t want to listen end up wearing. The cops call the boy’s mother, who later comes to the school and complains that she has trouble disciplining the child. She says she fears using corporal punishment, because she doesn’t want child protection services to take him away. Officer Holliday then advises the boy’s mother on the level of corporal punishment that will not result in his being removed from her custody. She tells the mom, “We want you to beat him… All I can tell you is to beat that ass.” At one point, Holliday also made a comment about how “animals should be crated”, adding that that’s what should happen to boys who want to “act like a little beast.” And she referred to the child as “a shepherd for the devil.”
I wasn’t originally planning to write about this case, as I’ve found that a lot of times, people involved in these situations go looking for opinions and then get angry or upset when they disagree with mine. Regular readers might recall that I recently disabled my official Facebook page for this blog because someone contacted me through Facebook with abuse, threats, and insults because they didn’t like an old blog entry I reposted. I have a feeling that this case could inspire similar attempts to berate me, simply for having and sharing an opinion.
However… against my better judgment, I’m going to write about this. My heart broke for that poor kid, even as I have empathy for the adults who were trying to deal with him. I was never as out of control as that boy was, but I do remember being very small and emotionally immature, crying and screaming, and being threatened, bullied, and hit by some of the adults in my life– particularly, my father. I don’t remember anyone ever speaking to me calmly and trying to redirect the tantrum– which is a pretty normal thing for kids to have, by the way. I remember hyperventilating and being terrified. And when I saw and heard that boy’s screams, it took me back to that place, many years in the past.
Not surprisingly, the boy in this story had nightmares in the wee hours of the next morning. He woke up at 3:00am and cried to his mother, saying that he was afraid the police were going to shoot him. The mother filed a complaint with the police department and later sued. Her suit was settled out of court for $275,000, which according to Dr. Todd Grande, who also analyzed this case, the boy will get when he’s an adult.
Dr. Grande notes that the police, who are trained to “take control” of a crime situation, lost control in dealing with this child. Cops, as I have observed from watching many Bodycam videos on YouTube, are used to being able to get as physical as they need to with non-compliant adults. But this is a five year old child, so obviously, it would not have been appropriate for them to wrestle him to the ground, put him in handcuffs, and Taser the shit out of him. Instead, they tried to act like “stern adults” and browbeat the child into submission with screaming, yelling, threats, and insults. But, as we can all see, that technique only made things a lot worse.
Christmon later said, having watched the video footage, “Honestly, after looking at this, we should have dropped him off and left,”
I agree. Because it’s clear that these two officers don’t have much expertise in talking to children, and their methods were abusive and inappropriate for a young child. I believe that, even though I have worked with children myself, and I know that dealing with them can be frustrating. Kids don’t have the same situational awareness that adults have, and they often lack self-control. This child, who apparently has a record of acting out in school and at home, needed someone with more experience dealing with troubled children. From what I saw in the video footage, it appeared that the cops weren’t behaving much better than the boy was. However, the boy has his age and maturity level as an excuse.
The two officers did face discipline for the way they handled this case. Officer Christmon was suspended for almost two weeks. Officer Holliday got four weeks’ suspension. Both suspensions occurred without pay. The officers were also administratively charged with a number of infractions, including neglect of duty and failure to be courteous. The police officers agreed with the punishments, did their penance, and the matter was closed. Both remain employed as police officers today.
Many people seemed to think that these two cops should be fired for their bad conduct, especially since it’s cost the county $275,000. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. It does sound to me like the officers recognize that they did wrong, and handled the situation poorly. They seem amenable to learning from the incident and doing a better job in the future. I’m not a big fan of canceling people’s livelihoods for one mistake, even when it’s a whopper like this one. In this case, the boy suffered significant mental distress that he’ll probably remember from now on. But no one was physically injured or killed, and it does sound like some learning happened.
I am not a fan of “beating children”, as most of my regular readers probably know. I had a teacher in the 80s who employed corporal punishment. He once carried it out on me, in front of my entire class of peers. Forty plus years later, I still haven’t forgotten it, and it still really pisses me off to think about it. That punishment was inappropriate. I also had a father whose methods of discipline involved force, yelling, insults, and physical abuse. He’s been dead for eight years, and I still have bad feelings toward him. That kind of “discipline” doesn’t teach anything but fear, and tends to make things much worse. Sadly, some school districts in the United States still use corporal punishment. At this writing, 19 states still allow corporal punishment in schools, although happily, my home state of Virginia no longer does. The state of Missouri has just now brought the method back to schools, reportedly at the request of some parents.
I understand that inflicting physical pain on someone who is out of control with emotion can sometimes “shock” them into compliance, especially when they are young children. However, in my experience, relying on that method of discipline leads to laziness on the part of the adult, and is ultimately disrespectful to the child, who is a human being and worthy of basic respect. We would never advocate for a husband slapping or spanking his wife when he became angry with or frustrated by her behavior. Many people would consider that “domestic violence.” And yet, a lot of people think it’s perfectly fine for a much larger human being to terrorize a child with threats of being hit or beaten, personal insults and comparisons to animals, and screaming and yelling. I promise, yelling and screaming at children doesn’t tend to inspire them to calm down and be quiet.
Police officers have a very difficult job, dealing with dangerous people who carry weapons. This was a case of a small child, obviously unarmed, and clearly much smaller and weaker than the cops were. The level of control the officers tried to inflict on the child was inappropriate, and clearly, very abusive. The boy wasn’t a threat to them. He was simply having a tantrum, which young kids often do. It seems to me the appropriate thing for the cops to do in this case was simply to see that the boy got back to school safely. And then, they should have allowed a professional who has much more experience working with children handle the boy’s meltdown. I don’t know if either of these cops have children, but their conduct offers a glimpse at how their children could be disciplined. It’s disturbing that one of the officers advocated for “beating” the child, even if she meant it in the vernacular. It’s really not a good look.