This Black Middle Schooler Was Handcuffed For ‘Stealing’ Free Milk

Ryan Turk, a black middle school student in Dumfries, Va., ended up in handcuffs while at school before facing suspension and charges of larceny. Why? According to the police officer present for the incident, Ryan had attempted to steal a 65-cent carton of milk from the cafeteria.

The only problem? Ryan was already entitled to the milk under the school’s free lunch program.

This crucial fact was apparently dismissed by school authorities and the police, as Ryan has been ordered to appear in juvenile court for his “crime.” School officials say he’s been placed on suspension for theft and disrespectful behavior.

“I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I’m mad. It just went too far,” Ryan’s mother, Shamise Turk, says. She finds the series of events unbelievable.

According to police accounts, Ryan attempted to “conceal” the carton of milk — reason enough to charge him with larceny, apparently. His mother has denied this version of events. Shamise Turks says her son was searched for drugs during the incident “because he was fidgety.”

Ryan admits that he “yanked away from him [the officer] I told him to get off of me because he’s not my dad.” Even so, does that really rationalize placing Ryan in handcuffs, charging him with larceny and suspending him from school?

Now Shamise Turk worries her young son will have a juvenile criminal record.

What happened to Ryan Turk ranks among the more plainly outrageous examples of a troubling trend in the United States: law enforcement’s swift, punitive treatment of perceived delinquent youths (particularly when it comes to children of color).

Police in Murfreesboro, Tenn., made national headlines last month after local law enforcement arrested 10 children (at least five of whom were black) while they were at school. They were placed in handcuffs and escorted out of their classrooms in front of their peers — one child was only six years old.

That’s just one of several similar incidents that have come to the attention of the media. Last year, an officer was videoed handcuffing and abusing an 8-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl, both of whom have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, in Kenton County, Ky.

In Columbia, S.C., another officer was caught on video flipping a high school student on her back and dragging her across the floor. In Florida, a middle school girl had a sprained ankle and wrist after being thrown to the ground by a school officer.

This is a trend. Over the last five years, police officers’ use of force against students in school has left at least 28 minors seriously injured and even one dead.

While not all police officers who deal with minors behave in such extreme ways, far too many do. Even if they don’t use force and cause physical injuries, the act of handcuffing and leading a student away before his or her peers can have lasting effects.

This is because, as sociology has recognized, there is a phenomenon that takes place when an individual (especially while he or she is still an impressionable minor) is, justifiably or not, associated with criminal or antisocial behavior. In Ryan Turk’s case, even though he did not commit theft, he is being treated as though he did.

Why is this such a problem? It teaches young Ryan that even if he follows the rules, it won’t matter — authority figures and his peers who saw his handcuffing might view him as a thief, someone who is not trustworthy.

Fortunately, some school districts have acknowledged these issues and are finding great success in handling delinquent minors without a heavy hand. The L.A. Unified School District has begun replacing suspensions with counseling sessions while training police officers to be not so much figures of authority but a trusted ear troubled children can turn to.

Regrettably, Ryan Turk does not attend a school with this understanding. If you believe that Ryan’s suspension and larceny charges should not only be dropped but that he and his family are owed personal apologies from both the school district and the police department, please add your name to our petition!

Concerned about an issue? Want to raise awareness about an injustice? Join your fellow Care2 users by learning how to make your own petition and make your voice heard today!



Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

There had to be another reason. Why did the school call the police? I have an idea that maybe this child had been getting into other trouble before this.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Beth M.
Beth M2 years ago

Is it any wonder that some children grow up angry?

Marc P.
Marc P2 years ago

Helga Ganguly: Don't worry Helga. You won't hear this department went through "re-training." - The entire matter will be swept under the rug so the assault on our children can continue unabated.

Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly2 years ago

The police came into our schools years ago and taught the kids not to trust strangers. Well,men in blue who grab and growl,qualify as strangers in a school setting. Manhandling children over a carton of milk that ,if they stole it, would be far from a hanging crime but otherwise would even a century ago have called for nothing more than a strong talking to and a home visit to see if the family needed help. I don't want to hear this department went through "re-training." I think that's code for , "we filed it under Z in the Circular file." Bring in their mothers and see if they HAD any training. Maybe the whole town needs work.

Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly2 years ago

Who handcuffs a child? Increasingly ,our public servants. Hey! When did the National charter change from defining the innocent to arresting them?

joanne p.
joanne p2 years ago

people have gone insane

Danuta Watola
Danuta W2 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Elaine Bauer
Elaine Bauer2 years ago

Police who behave this way toward kids are nothing short of bullies! Hiding behind their badges, they act out their own insecurities, while doing possibly irreparable damage to youngsters. This young man must be compensated in some manner for his brutal treatment, and shown that all the world is not out to get him.

Dena Barrett
Dena Barrett2 years ago

The family needs to retain an attorney and sure the department, the school system and the individuals involved personally for false imprisonment and civil rights violations. What needs to happen is for the adults involved with this child (and any others who experience this type of behaviour) is instead of reinforcing the anger, the negative message off this experience, he should be empowered to take appropriate action, stand up with dignity and honour and hold the system accountable. It changes the dynamic from him being yet another black victim, destined to live a life in conflict with the establishment to being an advocate for equality and dignity. This is an excellent opportunity to teach and empower the young man and his family to be powerful examples of strong, vocal advocates. What we do NOT need more of are angry, screaming crazies who give a bad name to advocates. What we need are more people who show how dignity, love, and peace will overcome hate and violence. Follow in the steps of MLK, Ghandi and others like them to stand up and show others we will not tolerate this but we will not become the aggressors.

Teach the boy, he does not have to buy into the victim mentality; be a powerful advocate. Change the world instead of being yet another link in the problem.