Students in the Birmingham Public School system don't just get sent to detention when they misbehave. If caught at the wrong moment, they can be blasted in the face with pepper spray by campus police. That's what happened to Gloria, the daughter of Birmingham resident LaTonya Stearnes. When she turned to confront a boy who was pushing her from behind, a nearby police officer grabbed her and hit her full in the eyes with a burst of pepper spray. Her sister Patrice ran to her aid only to be sprayed herself. LaTonya saw both her daughters come home that day with red eyes and swollen faces. She says that Gloria was in pain for days and fell into a depression as a result of the incident.
I can imagine why. No student should have to fear abusive authority at their place of learning. Knowing that the police can legally harm you at any time would make school a living nightmare.
Gloria's not the only victim of an overzealous disciplinary policy, either. Nearly 200 students have been pepper sprayed in the past five years within the Birmingham school system. Looks like that post-Columbine ultra-security meant to keep kids safe from each other has just turned into a new danger unto itself, rendering schools terrifying places where the threat of physical injury at the hands of authority figures looms. How many Birmingham residents know that their tax dollars are being used to pay police officers to abuse children?
The mayor of Birmingham is well aware of the policy that allows policemen to hurt teenage girls. The Board of Education and Superintendent know too. So far, no one has done anything to alter policy or to seek justice against the police officers who have been spraying kids. It's as though all this is just business as usual.
But LaTonya Stearnes isn't about to let the incident die under the radar. She's started up a petition at Change.org asking for those in charge to do something about the gross abuses of power that are happening within Birmingham schools. So far, just over 20,000 people have added their names in support of Gloria and her classmates. By bringing visibility to this issue, we might have a shot at stopping this brutality.