Parental Warning: This column contains strong language.
Several months ago, thousands of you joined me in fighting for justice for Kaia Rolle, the 6-year-old girl from Orlando, Florida who was outrageously arrested, handcuffed, put in a police car, and jailed after throwing a tantrum at her elementary school. We made tens of thousands of phone calls to the school district and police department, and in a matter of days, the officer was fired.
But until now, we had not seen the absolutely infuriating video of this arrest. I don’t know what I expected. Of course it was always destined to be horrible, but it’s worse than I’d imagined. It was worse than her family had imagined. My original inclination was to say “Fuck the Police.” But now I’ve settled somewhere different. Everybody failed Kaia. Her teachers. Her principal. Her counselors. The other officer on the scene. The other officers at the police department. Everybody. After seeing the video, person after person could’ve and should’ve intervened, but groupthink is a helluva drug.
Instead of having even a modicum of courage, everybody bowed down and allowed a child to be traumatized in their midst. It’s sooooooo telling. Because in our minds, we think we will have the integrity and moral courage to step up for people who need our help in moments of despair, but the video of this awful arrest shows us the truth – even when a baby girl is at risk – people will just bow the fuck down and acquiesce – allowing something unspeakable to happen right in front of their faces.
After her outburst at the school, Kaia had actually calmed all the way down. The situation had deescalated. She was literally reading a book with a staff member when the officer entered the room. And here’s the thing that we don’t talk about enough – officers have a wide range of discretion that they are allowed to use on the who, what, when, where, why, and how of issuing arrests. They aren’t bound to issue an arrest or even a ticket in every situation. In this instance, the officers had all authority to assess the situation and leave the room without even saying a word, but he did the exact opposite of that. Seeing a calm, cool, relaxed Kaia Rolle, he proceeded with an arrest. It’s unthinkable.
And she was crushed. Even at her young age, the thought of being handcuffed, arrested, put in a police car, and sent to jail broke her heart. I could cry right now just thinking about it.
But through the begging sobs and protests of Kaia, the officer arrested her nonetheless. His partner participated, assisting in putting the tight zip-ties around her arms with her hands behind her back.
A brave teacher or administrator would’ve put their body in front of Kaia’s, and refused to allow such an arrest to happen on their watch. No such person was around that day.
And us. We also failed Kaia. I have to say this. Mass incarceration, and all of the systems, structures, laws and policies that come along with it, wasn’t built by far away aliens, it was built on our watch, by elected officials in our districts. I beg of you, please read the brilliant, Pulitzer Prize winning book, Locking Up Our Own, by my friend and brother James Forman, Jr., a brilliant professor at Yale Law School.
In it, James makes it clear that it wasn’t just a bunch of conservative boogeymen who built mass incarceration, but neo-liberals, Democrats, and scores of Black and Latino politicians ranging from mayors, city-council members, school board leaders, to the Congressional Black Caucus. Trump didn’t build this shit. And maybe you don’t want to own it. I understand, but we at least need to accept that our lack of deep, true civic engagement has allowed a Frankenstein monster of a system to be built on our watch.
Do you know what the policies are in your school district? Do they allow the criminalization and arrest of children? Do you even know who runs your school board and system? Did you vote for them?
What about your police department? What about your local district attorney’s office? Do they allow such outrageous arrests of little children?
If you don’t know, if we don’t know, then yeah, we are a part of the problem. Ignorance to injustice is, in essence, compliance and acceptance of it.
We must do better.
P.S.: I am going to see how we can help Kaia and will let you know what I find out.