The Teaneck 6
There is more than enough blame to go around for the controversy and ill-feeling
surrounding an incident in which six students from Thomas Jefferson Middle
School were briefly detained and ticketed for walking in the street after dismissal.
After reading the Suburbanite's front page account of the hubbub, I am left
wondering which of the aggrieved parties will show the character and maturity to
apologize and admit their role in the escalation.
The Teaneck Police Department is one candidate. While law enforcement
officials can legitimately claim that officers were just doing their
jobs when they slapped fines on a group of young violators and returned
them to school, a department that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on
community policing and efforts to improve its relations with residents should
know better than to frighten, intimidate, and humiliate our children in
the process of carrying out its duty to keep order and protect public
safety. How about an admission from the TPD that this could have been
handled better and that in the future, officers will use better judgment
when making an example of people, even if those people had been
previously warned to obey the law?
Another group who may want to step back from the brink is the parents
of the children who were ticketed. Sure, any parent in the same position
would loudly protest the way in which this situation was (mis)handled
and the way their child was treated. However, it seems clear that
administration of the middle school cooperated with the police and issued numerous
instructions and warnings to the students not to engage in the very behavior
their children allegedly engaged in.
"[TJ Principal Antoine Green] said he told the students, but kids will
be kids. If he had informed us that the police would be issuing
summonses, we would have instructed our children not to walk in the street,"
one parent said, according to the Suburbanite. One may express anger at
how certain parties may have acted, but excusing the children's failure
to heed warnings or obey the school principal on the grounds that the
parents were not aware of the punishment and therefore did not
explicitly tell their children to follow this specific rule suggests that the
parents may not be blameless here.
Finally, a couple of other individuals ought to retract statements made in the heat
of the moment. One prominent resident is quoted as threatening the Township with
"the biggest demonstration you ever had in Teaneck" in response to the incident.
Given past history, that is quite a loaded comment. And though it is possible that
he is being quoted somewhat out of context, new Board of Education President Dr.
Henry Pruitt should know better than to take sides here. Snidely commenting that
"if the police want to empty their ticket books, they should spend their time on Cedar
Lane," is neither helpful nor a good example for the youth in the school system, who
should not see the elected leader of the school system expressing disdain for the
police in public.
Let's not forget that this incident began with children and our children are
watching how those they look up to go about responding to it.