I once trusted the Birmingham Public Schools. I sent my children to school thinking they were safe and protected. I found out different.
My 17-year old-daughter Gloria was sprayed in the face with pepper spray by a Birmingham police officer assigned to protect students in the school.
She wasn’t being violent and she certainly wasn’t a threat to the officer. Gloria was upset because a boy had pushed her. While she was confronting the boy, the police officer grabbed her from behind, pulled out his canister of pepper spray, and sprayed her in the eyes, face, and mouth. My 15-year-old daughter Patrice saw her sister sprayed and ran to her side. As Patrice reached Gloria, the officer sprayed Gloria with a second burst of pepper spray. The second burst also hit Patrice in the face.
When I saw Gloria, I couldn’t believe how red and swollen her face was. She was crying out to me to help her and I couldn’t do anything. She had red welts all over her face and her eyes were red. Days later the welts turned to black scabs that took two weeks to go away. Every time she washed her face, she cried again because water only made the pain worse. For weeks she refused to come out of her room and fell into a deep depression. It was a nightmare knowing my child suffered physical pain and depression because she reacted emotionally at school. She’s a teenage girl, not a criminal.
After Gloria was sprayed, I was shocked to learn that this was not an isolated incident. Nearly 200 Birmingham high school students have been sprayed with pepper spray in just the last five years. The Southern Poverty Law Center hasn’t been able to find another school district that uses pepper spray on students for normal teenage behavior.
The Birmingham Board of Education and Superintendent know about the routine use of pepper spray in schools and have done nothing to stop it. Birmingham Mayor William Bell knows about and authorizes the use of pepper spray against our children. Birmingham’s elected officials, who are supposed to represent the interests of parents and residents, know this is happening and have done nothing to stop it.
We need to make it stop! Our children should attend schools without fear of being sprayed with dangerous chemicals and abused by police officers that should be protecting them. Help me tell Birmingham’s city officials that the police department needs to change the way it operates in schools. We want the Birmingham Police Department to:
1. Provide comprehensive and repeated training on dealing with young people and nonviolent conflict resolution to all officers stationed in Birmingham schools.
2. Adopt a specific policy on the use of pepper spray in schools, limiting when pepper spray can be used on children.
3. Institute screening procedures for officers before assigning them to schools.
Help me show my daughter that there are people willing to stand up for her.
I'm writing today to ask you to stop the unnecessary use of force in Birmingham schools. Birmingham police officers stationed in the city’s schools routinely use mace against students for engaging in normal adolescent misbehavior — crying, cursing, hair pulling, and fighting.
By spraying mace in the eyes and mouths of children, officers turn our schools’ classrooms and hallways into dangerous, toxic and scary learning environments.
Students should not fear a day at school. Please do your part to create a healthy learning environment in Birmingham.