The Thick Blue Line

« April 2007 »

Memo to Frank Mercurio: YOU ARE DUMB.

Sometimes it's nice to have things just be simple and clear-cut. No gray areas, just indefensible stupidity and the blanket, profane condemnation of said stupidity. This is why I am, in some small way, thankful for the town of Avon Park, Florida, and its police chief, Frank Mercurio.

Often times, when the police make a mistake, like shooting a guy fifty-plus times for driving a car, shooting a guy for holding his wallet, or shoving a plunger up a guy's ass just because they can, people leap to the defense of those who ostensibly protect and allegedly serve. We don't know what it's like on the cold, mean streets where one mis-step could lead to a somber funeral, a weeping wife, and a partner vowing to get revenge on those scumbags.

Luckily for me, when the mean streets are a kindergarten class and "those scumbags" are a six year old girl hiding under a desk, those people realize it's time to shut the hell up.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the scene of the crime was Avon Elementary School. The perp was one Desre'e Watson, age six, four and a half feet tall, weighing fifty pounds. Her crimes, if you go by what she was charged with, included felony battery on a school official, misdemeanor disruption of a school function, and misdemeanor resisting an officer without violence.

Those of us NOT filling out police reports justifying the booking of a kindergarten student would call them "kicking", "screaming", and "hiding under a desk" respectively.

There are, in my mind, a grand total of TWO circumstances under which teachers and police offers can look at a fifty pound child having a tantrum, and come to the conclusion that the best course of action here is to take that child downtown, in handcuffs, and put her in jail. They are:

  • The child was in fact a sociopath, possibly under the control of Satan, who used her child-like innocence to melt the heart of the arresting officer's partner. That partner, just five days short of retirement, extended a fatherly hand to the girl, who then stabbed him in the gut with a nearby tool or something and left him to die, bleeding onto the cold concrete.
  • The child was not in fact a child at all, but a little person who, having recently escaped from jail through a very small hole, has holed up in an elementary school, posing as a child to escape detection by pursuing police. In that case, no amount of ensuing wacky hijinx can mitigate the circumstances.

I think we can both agree that these are very rare circumstances. And neither was raised as a defense by Mercurio, who took time off from his regular stint in Romeo and Juliet to speak to reporters and offer up the following defenses. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"When there is an outburst of violence, we have a duty to protect and make that school a safe environment for the students, staff and faculty. That's why, at this point, the person was arrested regardless what the age.

"Believe me when I tell you, a 6-year-old can inflict injury to you just as much as any other person."

The first bit is a classic defense. He was just following the established protocol. The temper tantrum qualified as an "outburst of violence" and a threat to the "safe environment". There is no indication of degree. For all we know, Desre'e could have been planning a Columbine-like plot, hiding a pipe bomb in her gratuitous apostrophe. The situation was defined as X, the response therefore is Y, even though any sane person knows that response Y is wholly inappropriate.

The second defense is funnier, because it's almost completely a lie. Oh, sure, if you live in Dick Cheney's five-percent world, where the vaguest possibility of a threat should be treated as if it were an actual threat, then yes. A fifty-pound girl is JUST AS POTENTIALLY THREATENING as a 200-pound crack dealer who works out and owns a few guns. But sane people deal in probabilities. Smart people know that unless the cops forgot to wear their cups to work that day, the odds of them receiving a debilitating injury from Desre'e were even smaller than SHE was.

I know my law enforcement expertise is pretty minimal, but allow me to suggest one small change in policy for the Avon Park PD. When confronted with unruly six-year-olds, DON'T ARREST THEM. Don't Taser them. Don't handcuff them, print them, or toss them in lockup so that their parents have to bail them out and make court dates. Because, and I can't make this any plainer; THEY'RE SIX.

We used to be able to handle this. I don't know why we think we can't anymore, but for decades, our society managed just fine without arresting six-year-olds. And while I'm four-square in favor of capital-P Progress, in this case I wouldn't mind turning the clock back a couple of decades.