Cruelty Discipline Tennessee

ProPublica: 11 Black Children Were Arrested in Rutherford County, Tennessee, for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist

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ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio investigated a case that happened in 2016, when the police arrested 11young children for a crime that doesn’t exist. What they found was not simply an outrageous miscarriage of justice, but a county whose juvenile justice system is run by tyrannical officials who like to punish children to “straighten them out.”

The initial arrests occurred after a scuffle among three boys. The boys who threw punches were not arrested, but the children watching the fight were. One was only eight years old. Some were handcuffed.

A few weeks before, a video had appeared on YouTube. It showed two small boys, 5 and 6 years old, throwing feeble punches at a larger boy as he walked away, while other kids tagged along, some yelling. The scuffle took place off school grounds, after a game of pickup basketball. One kid insulted another kid’s mother, is what started it all.

The police were at Hobgood [Elementary School] because of that video. But they hadn’t come for the boys who threw punches. They were here for the children who looked on. The police in Murfreesboro, a fast-growing city about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, had secured juvenile petitions for 10 children in all who were accused of failing to stop the fight. Officers were now rounding up kids, even though the department couldn’t identify a single one in the video, which was posted with a filter that made faces fuzzy. What was clear were the voices, including that of one girl trying to break up the fight, saying: “Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay.” She was a fourth grader at Hobgood. Her initials were E.J…

In Rutherford County, a juvenile court judge had been directing police on what she called “our process” for arresting children, and she appointed the jailer, who employed a “filter system” to determine which children to hold.

The judge was proud of what she had helped build, despite some alarming numbers buried in state reports.

Among cases referred to juvenile court, the statewide average for how often children were locked up was 5%.

In Rutherford County, it was 48%…

What happened on that Friday and in the days after, when police rounded up even more kids, would expose an ugly and unsettling culture in Rutherford County, one spanning decades. In the wake of these mass arrests, lawyers would see inside a secretive legal system that’s supposed to protect kids, but in this county did the opposite. Officials flouted the law by wrongfully arresting and jailing children. One of their worst practices was stopped following the events at Hobgood, but the conditions that allowed the lawlessness remain. The adults in charge failed. Yet they’re still in charge. Tennessee’s systems for protecting children failed. Yet they haven’t been fixed…

Eleven children in all were arrested over the video, including the 8-year-old taken in by mistake. Media picked up the story. Parents and community leaders condemned the actions of police. “Unimaginable, unfathomable,” a Nashville pastor said. “Unconscionable,” “inexcusable,” “insane,” three state legislators said. But Rutherford County’s juvenile court judge focused instead on the state of youth, telling a local TV station: “We are in a crisis with our children in Rutherford County. … I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Rutherford County established the position of elected juvenile court judge in 2000, and ever since, Donna Scott Davenport has been the job’s only holder. She sometimes calls herself the “mother of the county.”

Davenport runs the juvenile justice system, appointing magistrates, setting rules and presiding over cases that include everything from children accused of breaking the law to parents accused of neglecting their children. While the county’s mayor, sheriff and commissioners have turned over, she has stayed on, becoming a looming figure for thousands of families. “She’s been the judge ever since I was a kid,” said one mother whose own kids have cycled through Davenport’s courtroom. One man, now in his late 20s, said that when he was a kid in trouble, he would pray for a magistrate instead of Davenport: “If she’s having a bad day, most definitely, you’re going to have a bad day.”

While juvenile court is mostly private, Davenport keeps a highly public profile. For the past 10 years she’s had a monthly radio segment on WGNS, a local station where she talks about her work.

She sees a breakdown in morals. Children lack respect: “It’s worse now than I’ve ever seen it,” she said in 2012. Parents don’t parent: “It’s just the worst I’ve ever seen,” she said in 2017. On WGNS, Davenport reminisces with the show’s host about a time when families ate dinner together and parents always knew where their children were and what friends they were with because kids called home from a landline, not some could-be-anywhere cellphone. Video games, the internet, social media — it’s all poison for children, the judge says.

Davenport describes her work as a calling. “I’m here on a mission. It’s not a job. It’s God’s mission,” she told a local newspaper. The children in her courtroom aren’t hers, but she calls them hers. “I’m seeing a lot of aggression in my 9- and 10-year-olds,” she says in one radio segment…

Scrutinizing the inner workings of Tennessee’s juvenile courts can be difficult. Court files are mostly off-limits; proceedings can be closed at a judge’s discretion. But on the radio, Davenport provides listeners a glimpse of the court’s work. “I’ve locked up one 7-year-old in 13 years, and that was a heartbreak,” she said in 2012. “But 8- and 9-year-olds, and older, are very common now.”

The article is long and heartbreaking, to anyone with a heart. In the past five years, the county has been forced to pay out more than $11 million to the children and families who were mistreated. But Judge Davenport plans to run for another eight year term..

This is a case that should be viewed through the lens of critical race theory.

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