How many police officers does it take to tackle a 4’10” 10th grader, wrest away her cell phone, and haul her into custody? Unfortunately, the answer’s three and this isn’t a joke.
Click2Houston reports Sam Ixel Perez, a sophomore at Houston High School in Houston, Texas, knew checking her cell phone in class broke school rules. The 15-year-old girl did it anyway, because Perez was worried about her disabled mother, Gladys Santos, who was getting dialysis that day. Sure enough, her father had called because he couldn’t find her mother.
This latest in a string of recent events involving police brutality and excessive discipline enacted against school children — especially low-income youth of color — proves the school-to-prison pipeline not only exists but has spiraled completely out of control.
K12Niche.Com reports the Sam Houston Math, Science, and Technology Center is 94.9 percent Hispanic, 4.1 percent black, and only 1 percent Anglo white. 63.2 percent of student’s families are poor enough to make them eligible for free or reduced price lunch.
As one would expect, Perez’s reading teacher sent her out of the classroom. While she was explaining the situation to the teacher, the assistant principal ordered the Perez to turn over her cell phone, but Perez refused.
“I checked my phone, that’s the only reason I got sent out of class by my reading teacher. And my reading teacher was talking to me and the AP comes into the conversation and just said ‘Give me your phone, give me your phone,’ I did not want to give her my phone because I was still worried about my mama.”
Police officers attack Perez.
Perez walked away and down the stairs to call her mother. Just as she finally reached her, the assistant principal called the police. When they arrived, things got ugly. Three police officers tackled Perez and pinned her down to the ground — on of them had his knee on her head — while she cried out in pain.
The girl told reporters:
“I didn’t want to let go of my phone so they like, pinned me down to the floor. One of them was behind me, like on my legs and trying to put the handcuffs on. It hurt a lot. And the other cop has his knee on my head, all his weight on me, and I was screaming because it hurt so much. I was crying because I thought I was going to get in trouble with my mom.”
Meanwhile, a terrified Santos heard nothing but screams coming out of her phone.
“When I was talking to her, she was screaming and I didn’t hear nothing no more so I drive to the school and I find police got her in the throat to try to get the phone away.”
A schoolmate caught the incident on video and uploaded it to Instagram, where it immediately went viral. Here’s the raw video footage (caution: trigger warnings):
Schoolmates rally for Perez.
The Free Thought Project adds that Perez has been suspended from school for four days, but her schoolmates have rallied around her and have organized protests — both online and in front of the actual school — using the hashtag #FreeSamHouston.
Santos wants to move her daughter to a different school, but Click2Houston reports that when she went to talk to school administrators, police came and threatened to arrest her if she did not leave.
“I want the police out and the police to stop abusing our kids. The assistant principal and the principal; they are the ones that have started all this in the school with the new rules. I understand she break the rules, but they have to understand that students have problems, too. Teenagers have problems, too. They went too far.”
The Free Thought Project adds that University of Maryland criminologist and school violence expert Denise C. Gottfredson, told The New York Times:
“There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety, and it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”
FTP adds that police officers write children up for up to 300,000 misdemeanor tickets per year.
According to Texas Appleseed, a group working to end to school-to-prison pipeline, officers based in schools write up to 300,000 misdemeanor tickets each year.
Perez speaks to Houston’s Channel 2.
And here’s the news report from Click2Houston, Channel 2’s interview with Perez.
This writer understand rules are rules, but — as a former teenager and mother of a 12-year-old girl — believes the consequences for breaking rules have become too harsh. Our schools, law enforcement, and justice systems increasingly treat teenagers like adults, but they’re not. They’re still growing, their bodies are still changing, and their brains are still developing. Teenagers often lack impulse control — especially when they’re distraught and worried about someone they love, as Perez so obviously was.
Why did the vice principal — whose name seems to have been completely excised from the Web — not even try to create a win-win situation by saying he or she had to take the phone, but Perez could come to the office and call her mother from there? Or simply let the girl finish her call and then inform her that the school would have to discipline her.
What kind of future can America’s children look forward to when schools are working so hard to give them rap sheets a mile long before they even have the chance to graduate?
h/t Free Thought Project.