US attorney Peter Nunez didn't know what he was starting when he impounded sea vessels in San Diego containing any amount of drugs back in 1986.
It marked the beginning of controversial policies in society and schools--policies which have ultimately proven, after the era of law and order passed, to disproportionately target minorities, the poor, and children of single mothers.
It would violate civil rights in the name of security.
This was the beginning of what became known as zero tolerance policies.
Plagued with overwhelming violence, frightened public school educators were seeking a way to address guns, gangs and drugs in their schools. So, in 1989, districts in places like California enacted a zero tolerance policy, and students were facing mandatory expulsion for fighting, gang activity, or drugs.
By 1993, this snowballed to include minor infractions such as smoking or class disruption.
It became sweeping national policy in 1994 when the Clinton administration signed into law the Gun Free School Act. By 2000, of their own accord and before any research on the policy was even conducted, school districts expanded zero tolerance mandating suspension or expulsion for a myriad of petty offenses.
Finally, our schools were safer.
Or were they?
Meet five year old "Eric James:"
EJ, as he's called, has experienced his fair share of trauma in his short life, including a young single mother, poverty, multiple moves and an incarcerated biological father.
As if the poor kid didn't already have enough on his young plate, even more stress was added to his life when a primary caregiver and co-parent was in a freak, near fatal auto accident and left completely unable to care for him for nearly a year.
But, the school district didn't consider, nor care about, that. Like most public schools in the twenty first century, they view children as miniature, rational thinking adults, demanding absolute conformity and adherence to rules under strict implementation of a zero tolerance policy.
But, the problem with this policy and line of thought is that a five year old is not an adult, and does not think like an adult. This is unacceptable, however, and when children such as Eric James cannot meet these standards, they're severely punished.
EJ was suspended for a variety of zero tolerance offences, such as sitting under a table and refusing to come out. He was suspended for causing a minor tussle in the schoolyard, and received the most severe punishment and longest suspension when he claimed, at another child's prompting, that he had a butter knife in his backpack.
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