Honowai Elementary School in Waipahu, Hawaii Google Maps
The mother whose 10-year-old was arrested over a drawing said she does not feel her daughter was protected.
Last week, the ACLU of Hawaii sent a letter to school and police demanding change after the January 2020 incident.
Since the arrest, Taylor and her daughter, now 12, have moved back to the US mainland.
For a long time, Tamara Taylor wanted to live in Hawaii, but couldn’t find the perfect moment to make the move. It wasn’t until her daughter suggested moving that they made a plan.
“She said, ‘Mommy, I learned this in school about Hawaii. Can we live there?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ So from there, we began to plan to move to Hawaii,” Taylor told Insider.
The two moved to Oahu, Hawaii, in July 2019 to start their new beginning, she said. But they had to move back to the US mainland after her daughter, identified as N.B., was arrested at school after she allegedly drew a picture of her bully when she was 10 years old.
The incident has highlighted the traumatic – and seemingly inevitable – encounter Black children experience with police, particularly Black girls; and scrutiny around police in schools.
‘I was mortified’
On the morning of January 10, 2020, Taylor said she got a call from school officials at Honowai Elementary stating that they were “thinking about calling the police” on N.B., a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and Taylor’s attorney said.
The call came after a dispute where N.B., who has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other kids allegedly created an “offensive” drawing of another student who had been bullying her, Mateo Caballero, the attorney representing Taylor’s family, told Insider.
“A parent of one of the kids involved went to school. She was very upset … and essentially demanded from the school that they call the police,” Caballero said.
When Taylor finally arrived at the school, the officers were already there and she was told that the parent wanted to press charges against her daughter.
Taylor tried to deescalate the situation with the officers and staff, the letter said, and voiced concern about “police presence given the high rate of police violence against Black people, and the discriminatory disciplining of Black girls in schools.”
Taylor said she was kept in a room and denied access to her child – who she thought was in class the entire time – while N.B was being questioned by police and staff about the drawing. An officer told Taylor that her daughter was “treating the situation as a joke,” according to the ACLU’s letter.
“N.B. made comments to someone in school that she wondered what jail was like. I think the school administrators and the police took that as some sort of sign that she wasn’t taking them seriously,” Caballero said. “So they decided to arrest her based on, essentially, that comment. While she was put in handcuffs and put in a police car, Ms. Taylor was just in a room not knowing that any of this happened.”
The 10-year-old was handcuffed and transported to the Pearl City Police Station.
“When she got to the station and they asked her to take off her earrings and to take off her shoelaces, she had to tell them, ‘I don’t know how to do that because my mommy does that for me,'” Caballero said. “That’s how absurd the situation was.”
According to the letter, Taylor wasn’t allowed to see her daughter because the school principal said it looked as though she had “fire in her eyes.” Taylor said she was calm the entire time and requested mediation, but was denied.
She eventually followed the police to the station and picked up her daughter, who was not charged.
“I was mortified,” Taylor said. “She said she cried the entire way to the station. And then she complained that the handcuffs were really tight and very uncomfortable.” When the handcuffs were removed, she added, they left marks on her daughter’s arms.
Caballero said that his client was the only child linked to the drawing incident who was interrogated and arrested.
“We look at officers to protect us,” Taylor said. “We look at the staff administration of our education system to protect our children, and she was not protected in any instance of this situation.”
Black children disproportionately face use of force during police encounters
While Black children make up 15% of the US population, they account for over 50% of minors who are forcibly handled by police officers, according to a recent analysis by the Associated Press. There are no laws preventing the use of force against children by police, the AP reported.
Social justice advocates have long pointed out a pattern of use of force against Black girls. Research shows Black girls are more likely to be perceived as an adult and face harsher punishments in school. An expert previously told Insider that Black girls are often seen as more “provocative or dangerous” compared to their white counterparts and that having more counselors in school would be an effective restorative approach in moments of conflict rather than calling the police.
Three days after N.B. was handcuffed and taken to a police station, Taylor wrote a letter to the elementary school and Leeward District superintendent about how the daughter was interrogated, detained without her being present, and “how N.B.’s documented disability” was ignored during the situation, according to the letter from ACLU of Hawaii.
“There’s no evidence that Ms. Taylor’s daughter or her friends intended to harm anyone. She had no history of disciplinary issues in school. She had no history of violence against other kids,” Caballero said. “Under no circumstances, this situation should have resulted in a 10-year-old girl in handcuffs.”
A spokesperson for the Honolulu Police Department told Insider in a statement that the department is “committed to its even-handed, unbiased, and fair application of its policies and procedures in dealing with and responding to credible threats involving school violence.”
“The HPD believes that its officers took action that they believed was reasonable and necessary under the circumstances given the nature of the threat,” the statement went on to say. “It is unfortunate that the races of the minors and adults involved in this case have been made issues.”
ACLU of Hawaii and Caballero are requesting a response to their demand letter, which had been sent last week to the Hawaii Department of Education and the HPD, by November 8. The letter demands $500,000 in damages for the family and that arrest records from the incident be expunged. It also calls for new policies, including not calling law enforcement unless there’s a threat of harm, allowing parents access to their children on school grounds, and having a school counselor available for students before the police are called – “unless there is an emergency situation.”
The HPD said in its statement that is working with “relevant stakeholders, officers, and investigators” in connection to its response to the ACLU and Caballero’s letter of demands.
“The HPD remains respectful to all impacted persons, including all victims and especially all minors,” the statement said.
A spokesperson from the DOE did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
‘Nobody knows about the sleepless nights’
Following the January 2020 incident, N.B. finished her academic year at a new school in Hawaii before moving back to the mainland later that year in June. While she’d only lived in Hawaii for about a year, the impact of the experience has remained with N.B., her mother said.
“Nobody knows about the sleepless nights. No one knows about the changes in appetite,” she said. “No one knows about just having to help your child cope through this type of trauma.”
Almost two years later, Taylor said she has been focused on rebuilding her life with her daughter. Leaving the life they were excited to build in Hawaii was a part of their healing process.
“At that time, at that school, during that incident, we lost our power,” she said. “The little piece of power that we had, we lost it. And this was the way to regain it back.”
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