Black Student Handcuffed, Suspended For Stealing Free School Lunch Milk

* The following is an opinion column by R Muse *

Over the past few years Americans who aren’t African American have learned that there are more than a few things law enforcement officers will not tolerate from Blacks. For African American males, regardless of age, something as innocent as walking, driving, shopping, or selling a cigarette can result in police shooting them to death or being beaten and choked within an inch of their lives only to die in jail.

For a young teen in Virginia, picking up his free school lunch carton of milk in the cafeteria lunch line didn’t get him shot and killed by a school police officer; he was fortunate. But it did get him roughed-up, handcuffed, charged with theft, suspended from school, and ordered to appear in juvenile court to face the charge of “larceny.” All for being Black while picking up a carton of milk as part of the free lunch program; and being “fidgety” during interrogation after being handcuffed and charged with theft.

The incident reported by WTVR occurred at the Graham Park Middle School in Triangle Virginia when Ryan Turk picked up his milk in the cafeteria lunch line. That act apparently did not sit well with a Prince William County police officer who accused the student of “stealing the milk” and then becoming “disorderly” when the officer grabbed and handcuffed him.

The teen did not deny pulling back from the police officer after he was grabbed; “I yanked away from him I told him to get off of me because he’s not my Dad,” the middle school student said. The student was then “handcuffed” and hauled to the principal’s office and searched for drugs; likely because he was one of “those” kinds of African Americans who was not enthralled at being handcuffed and accused of stealing his “free school lunch” carton of milk.

Because he had the temerity to pick up his ‘free’ milk from the lunch line, young black teen Ryan Turk was charged with larceny and ordered to appear in Juvenile Court. The youngster’s mother, Shamise Turk, said what any parent would say in a similar situation regardless of their racial makeup.

This is ridiculous… this is beyond embarrassing. I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I’m mad. It just went too far. They are charging him with larceny, which I don’t have any understanding as to why he is being charged with larceny when he was entitled to that milk from the beginning.”

As his mother stated, Ryan Turk was entitled “to that milk” because he is enrolled in the school’s free lunch program. Still, the school and police charged him with larceny because they claimed he tried to “conceal” the milk; it is a claim Ryan Tucker denied and frankly doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Racism hardly ever makes sense though.

A spokesperson for the school said that in addition to law enforcement charging the student with larceny, administrators were anxious to take their own punitive action. They suspended the child for theft, being disrespectful at being manhandled, handcuffed, interrogated and charged with theft, and for using his cell phone. The school’s spokesperson defended the suspension saying, “The need for disciplinary action is determined by how a student behaves throughout any given incident.” Apparently being “fidgety”  while handcuffed and under interrogation warrants disciplinary action if the student is African American.

The school and police asserted that Ryan, after being grabbed by the cop, handcuffed and taken to be interrogated was “fidgety” during questioning in the principal’s office. Of course he was fidgety; any middle school student would be “fidgety” after being grabbed by a police officer, handcuffed, charged with theft and hauled to the office for interrogation. The sad fact is this is not an unusual scene in the nation’s schools any more than unarmed African Americans being murdered on the streets by law enforcement officials.

According to Think Progress, the increased police presence in schools coupled with  a lack of law enforcement training where conflicts have to be resolved differently, creates a nasty environment for students; especially students of color where they receive harsh discipline for minor indiscretions. In Ryan Tucker’s case, it was harsh treatment, unfair discipline, and a criminal charge for no crime; unless being Black in the cafeteria lunch line is now a crime. In fact, there is overwhelming documentation that students of color, disabled students and LGBT students “receive a disproportionate amount of discipline.”

In a report from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at  the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) that analyzed U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights data, African American students are four times as likely to be suspended as white students.

Stanford University research reveals that racial bias even factors into teachers’ decisions about discipline even though teachers in the study likely didn’t “let racial stereotypes guide their reaction to a student’s first infraction.” However, after the second infraction, no matter how minor such as coming in late for class, “teachers judged African American students more severely than white students.”

This is a troubling fact because any incident of school disciplinary action, even without police involved, affects the student’s entire academic career; particularly if the apply to attend college where they are required to answer questions about discipline. Those answers, and a student’s “cumulative file,” as well college background checks definitely influence whether a student is admitted to a place of higher learning according to several surveys.

Destroying a student’s chance of being admitted to an institution of higher education based on disciplinary records is such an issue that the U.S. Department of Education urged colleges, and the nonprofits devising admission applications, to either change the way they ask these questions or avoid doing so at all. In the Virginia middle school student’s case, even though he did nothing more than pick up his free lunch carton of milk and fidget while being handcuffed and interrogated, when he applies to a college his non-crime, unfair suspension, and appearance in juvenile court will negatively impact his admission.

Experts claim better training for law enforcement officers posted in schools will remedy the problem, but no amount of training is ever going to remedy racism. It is bad enough that an African American male, no matter what age, has to endure the daily risk of being shot and killed by police for walking, driving or shopping while Black. But it is beyond the pale and a dirty abomination that they have to fear being grabbed, handcuffed, suspended from middle school, and appear in juvenile court for picking up their free carton of milk in a cafeteria lunch line. It informs that America is devolving back into the pre-Civil War nation where it is dangerous just existing as a person of color. And, it is precisely the kind of nation a very significant number of Americans lust after and why Donald Trump is the Republicans’ nominee for president.