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Mace Used On Birmingham Students – SPLC Files Suit

Mace Used On Birmingham Students – SPLC Files Suit

Can this really be happening in our schools in the 21st century?

Earlier this month, the Southern Poverty Law (SPLC) filed a federal class action lawsuit regarding the use of mace as a means of basic discipline against school children in Birmingham, Alabama.

Mace As A Tool For School Discipline

Chemical weapons to enforce school discipline? I had to read this twice just to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood.

The suit was filed on behalf of district students who have been targeted with chemical weapons and other excessive force. It also seeks to protect other students from these abusive and unconstitutional practices.

Lawsuit Against School Board, Superintendent, Police

From the SPLC newsletter:

The lawsuit, which was filed after the Birmingham School Board refused to address the issue after it was raised last month by the SPLC, outlines how the Birmingham Board of Education, Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, and the Birmingham Police Department violated the constitutional rights of Birmingham students through an abusive and unconstitutional policy that allows School Resource Officers to use chemical weapons against them to enforce basic school discipline.
 
“We must ask ourselves:  What kind of school system allows the entry of armed police officers who mace its students? One with a serious illness. One that needs to re-examine its ultimate purpose for existence – educating and protecting its students,” said Ebony Glenn Howard, lead attorney on the case for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Corporal Punishment

I have written a few times here on the horrific practice of corporal punishment, which is still legal in 20 states of the country, including Alabama, but this is the first time I’ve seen a reference to mace as a tool to enforce discipline.

According to the SPLC, hundreds of students were arrested in the Birmingham City Schools last year. However, most of the arrests were for petty offenses that most schools would handle in-house – no need to call the police.

The Health Risks Of Pepper Spray

The Center also points out that individuals exposed to pepper spray are at risk for serious health effects ranging from temporary loss of vision or blurred vision to blistering of the eyes and skin. They can also experience life-threatening effects such as inflammation and swelling of the throat that restrict the size of the airway and limit the amount of oxygen entering the lungs. This is especially concerning in a school district that is 96 percent African American and is located in a community where children have a five times higher death rate due to asthma-related complications.

Our children have the right to the best education possible. Obviously that’s not happening in Birmingham. Even criminals in prison are protected by law from being physically abused by those in authority over them. But not our children?

Victory For The SPLC

Last month, I reported how the SPLC won a victory for a six-year-old who was handcuffed at his New Orleans elementary school in May of this year. Thanks to their efforts, such practices will no longer be used against young people in New Orleans.

Let’s hope they achieve justice for the students of Birmingham too.

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Photo credit: iStock

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127 comments

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5:42AM PST on Feb 6, 2011

NO excuse for this. NONE. The teachers and principal that resorted to calling in police, are cowards.

4:49AM PST on Jan 26, 2011

Reading this article suggests to me that teachers and other school staff members are inadequately trained in class management.

I was recently watching a documentary about how children in Nigeria who were being accused of being witches and possessed by the devil by nutty pastors. This resulted in hysterical parents and guardians inflicting the most horrific of injuries upon the children allegedly to remove the devil. Now I am asking myself what is the difference between that and children being maced and having pepper spray used upon them in school?

There is absolutely no way that teachers here in UK would get away it. One is talking several years in jail if found guilty and having to be put in a safe cell because if the other prisoners got their hands upon them, they would make mince meat out of them.

2:20PM PST on Jan 13, 2011

The SPLC will only take cases where truth of events is clearly made. They're very busy with all the crap that happens in this country around civil rights, so they don't bother with a situation that has no merit. So don't make excuses for violating civil rights!

10:56AM PST on Dec 30, 2010

SPLC rocks

10:52AM PST on Dec 30, 2010

Using mace on students is far too severe.

7:38PM PST on Dec 29, 2010

Was mace the ONLY option the school officials had?

1:26PM PST on Dec 28, 2010

Thank you for the post. I am against corporal punishment in the school system of any kind. With such turmoil going on in the world surrounding them, how do we expect them to have manners, disipline..which they may not get at home with two working parents. There is so much bad news out there, that a lot have lost hope, in having a future.
When students act out and a teacher cannot handle them, they should be sent home and the parents & student in question should have to attend counselling. There is always a bad apple, and some just to fit in will follow.
Respect works both ways!!!

6:54AM PST on Dec 28, 2010

"It's unfortunate that people are commenting with "This article is misleading" I say this because there is a link there to the splc site's own article, that states:"

Surely you don't take a law suit pleading as factual.

6:47AM PST on Dec 28, 2010

It's unfortunate that people are commenting with "This article is misleading" I say this because there is a link there to the splc site's own article, that states:
"Today’s lawsuit details how mace is used against children who are completely restrained and pose no threat to themselves or others in the school environment. These children are not alleged to have engaged in any wrongdoing but are merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. These children are accused of engaging in normal but non-dangerous adolescent misbehavior – after which the adults taunt and celebrate their punishment"
Kids that are "completely restrained" are being maced, is that justifiable? I will agree that there may be some situations where this is the case, but I feel these are probably quite rare (read the complaint filed, one student was held down by several adults, all resulting from not having his shirt tucked in, and was maced, inches from his face). Before you pass judgement on the author for nor providing enough info, do your own due diligence, read the attached links.
Also, I'm a So. Cal middle school teacher, who works in a very low SES area. I understand the need for using things like mace, in certain circumstances, where using such will do more good than harm. This is a lot different than using mace as a disciplinary measure however, as is the case in Birmingham City Schools.

11:22PM PST on Dec 27, 2010

I agree with Tori: this article is missing way too many important facts for us to truly understand what is happening in Alabama and why. On the surface, of course it sounds horrific that children are being maced in school. It would seem a no-brainer.

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