J. D. Heyes
Jan 21, 2013
In a tactic that is not likely to inspire future cooperation or confidence in police, officers in Northampton, Mass., have tricked every student in the local high school into providing them with handwriting samples as part of an investigation.
In what is becoming increasingly common among local, state and especially federal law enforcement, every student in school was presumed guilty until proven innocent after officers in charge of investigating a threatening note convinced school officials to require every student to sign a statement.
Officers said they will then compare the handwriting of the signatures with the handwriting on the threatening note, which was found by school officials Dec. 19, a few days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and led to the emptying of the school (not so ironically, students were asked to sign a statement “to take threats seriously,” according to The Republicannewspaper).
‘We did nothing wrong’
What’s more, no one in authority sees any problem with it.
Here are the details:
Two days after the threatening note was discovered, the paper reported that “students at the high school were asked to write a statement in reference to the threat acknowledging that they take such matter (sp) seriously and share the concern of police and school administrators about safety.” Officials have described the statement as “a joint effort by police, the high school administration and the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office,” the paper said.
Upon getting the statements, police say they’ll use them as part of their investigation, “perhaps matching the handwriting with that of one of the students,” the paper reported (as if police and school officials really got the samples for some other reason).
As expected, Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz said District Attorney David E. Sullivan defended their tactic as legal. Per The Republican:
Sienkiewicz has said that police take such threats seriously and noted the crime is punishable under state law by a minimum of three years in jail. He added … that it is also part of his department’s community care mission to identify and help troubled individuals.
“We disagree that it violates student rights,” he said.
As authoritarians and statists always do, the official went on to justify his violation of the students’ privacy rights with the excuse that he did it for their own “safety.”
“We take any threats against children seriously and investigate all such threats,” he said. “The alleged threat at Northampton High School was of a serious nature.”
So, if an incident is “serious” enough, it warrants violation of students’ rights and, by extension, those of their parents, is what this police official is saying.
Violation of our rights for our own good
What are missing from this story are details as to whether or not even writing a “threatening note” was even illegal or against school rules in the first place. It’s understandable that school officials, police and a few parents would be jittery after an incident as horrific as Sandy Hook, but given the sensitivity of what had just happened, what would have been wrong with police and school officials explaining what they were doing, in the interest of full disclosure, and asking for the students’ help?
Wouldn’t that inspire more confidence in authorities and instill a much greater sense of community and cooperation?
We think so, and apparently some people in Northampton agree.
“Hey LIBS this is your logic coming full circle. I love it. Not even close to legal, but it’s ok, its Northampton. Big Brother votes for libs,” wrote one newspaper reader.
“What’s funny about this case is that when you enter NOHO HS, they have glaring signs telling you that you are under video surveillance,” wrote another. “Of course, when they started to pitch the idea that all students should lose all privacy rights by installing video cameras, they probably argued that video surveillance would make the school ‘safer.’ Um, gee, where’s the expensive videotapes of who went in and out of that bathroom that day? You know, the video that would make us ‘safer?’”
Most reasonable adults want their children protected, but when authorities get comfortable violating basic constitutional principles “for our own good,” where will they draw the line?
This article was posted: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 11:31 am