July 19, 2007

The Dangers of Sixth Grade Puppy Love

by PG

Apparently the big news in Houston tonight was that a 12-year-old girl who had written "I love Alex" (referring to a 15-year-old boy) in permanent marker on the gym wall would not have to go to alternative school for the infraction. Since I find the general overpolicing and overdisciplining of public schools ridiculous anyway, I'm in favor of this, but a little doubtful of the constitutionality of the distinctions the girl's parents made:

The case drew national media attention after the May 21 incident when district police read Shelby Sendelbach her rights and ticketed her for the graffiti act. The Sendelbachs blasted the school district accusing administrators of failing to make a distinction between Shelby's act of puppy love and graffiti done by a gang member.
Severely punishing a white adolescent girl for graffiti: bad. Severely punishing a most-likely African American or Latino male for graffiti: good.

I am opposed to gang activity, especially in the schools, and think that administrators, police and community leaders should be working hard to prevent it. However, routinely punishing "Thug Life" with the same discipline given for making terroristic threats, possessing dangerous drugs and assaulting with bodily injury (all also Level 4), while letting off "I Heart My High School Boyfriend" with a slap on the wrist seems unfair. Again, if the schools are trying to do a kind of broken-windows policing where even seemingly-small infractions that demonstrate disregard for order are prosecuted, I'm not going to fuss too much. But to my knowledge, NYPD doesn't penalize you more for writing one message rather than another, assuming that it doesn't have unprotected speech aspects like obscenity, threat or libel -- if someone is writing "I'm gonna kill Julio," by all means punish that person extra for the threat. Otherwise, graffiti is graffiti is graffiti. It all violates the law, damages property and degenerates the appearance of the city, and should not be treated differently based on who did it.

July 19, 2007 12:39 AM | TrackBack
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