Hard News by Russell Brown

55

Sick with Anger

I've been using the internet long enough that I am rarely truly upset by what I read on it. Put it this  way: I do read the comments. But I felt sick with rage last week when I read Reason.com's story on a 17 year-old autistic boy who became the subject of a California police drug-buy sting.

The War on Drugs generates outrage, waste and injustice on an ongoing basis, but what happened here seemed in breach not only of common moral and ethical standards, but of basic human decency. And, of course, because of who my kids are, it's personal. I would genuinely relish the chance to spit in the faces of the officers responsible.

So this kid, who has multiple anxiety disorders, has moved with his family to a new town, has started at a new school, and quite literally has no friends and few skills to make friends. An undercover policeman pretends to befriend him, in order to pressure him into buying cannabis. The cops sends 60 text messages to his "friend", placing him under so much pressure that the boy begins to harm himself.

Eventually, the boy does as he is asked. He buys a half a joint from a homeless man. He does this once more, then refuses to continue. The cop who has posed as his friend -- his only friend -- disappears. He's bereft.

And then it gets worse. His parents take up the story:

At 8:30 a.m. on December 11th, 2012, armed police officers rushed into our autistic son’s high school classroom. He was handcuffed in front of his classmates, taken away, medically probed, interrogated without a lawyer, booked, and then locked up. We knew nothing about this until we called the school that afternoon at 3:45, after our son had not returned home. We were not allowed to see him until two days later, in court, and the look in his eyes will forever haunt us.

Their son is now suffering post-traumatic stress disorder -- and, incredibly, he's still being victimised. Although he was found not guilty in court and has returned to his school after a judge ordered his reinstatement, the school is appealing the judgement and still wants to expel him under its "zero tolerance" policy.

According to Reason, the majority of the 22 kids arrested in the wider sting were special-needs. This operation didn't really have anything to do with keeping drugs out of schools. It was a cynical attack by lazy, corrupt cops on targets able to offer the least resistance.

I'd cheerily put all those responsible in the stocks, but that's not possible. What I have done is made a contribution to an Indie GoGo campaign by this boy's parents, Catherine and Doug Snodgrass, aimed at stopping these sting operations. You could too.

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At a very different end of the scale of police conduct -- the annoying and unceessary end -- was this dispatch from the New Zealand Police, which went out yesterday on the Police Twitter account:

Two missing autistic children located

Sun, 13/10/2013 - 1:22pm

Two autistic children aged 8 and 9 were reported missing today to Police at about midday from an address in Northcote over the Shore.  Police attended immediately given their concerns over the children's ages and a number of creeks and waterways nearby. Police canvassed and searched local areas assisted by families and neighbours of the missing children. 

The children fortunately were found nearby sometime later, metres away from a local creek.  It is a timely reminder to all parents and caregivers to ensure that children are monitored and supervised closely especially when they are or live around water.

Consequences of today's incident could have been much worse.

The incident will be referred to CYPFS for some follow up work.

Ends

You know, I don't think the families involved really needed this inappropriate shaming. It's hard enough as it is bringing up children on the autism spectrum.

Is the officer responsible really saying that all parents should constantly watch their children if they live somewhere near a creek? Or only those with autism in the family? And if these kids were eight and nine, the fact that they were autistic doesn't necessarily mean they're going to automatically go face-down in the nearest body of water.

Perhaps there are circumstances we can't know about, but was the warning shot about CYF (not CYPFS, actually) really necessary? What was the actual purpose of this release? Did the officer concerned actually speak to the family in the tone used here? Perhaps an apology would be in order.

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