Foolishness of Zero Tolerance

…or of intolerance; the two are interchangeable terms in this context.  This context is the overreaction of school management and local police departments to remarks concerning “threats” to schools.

Gina Gobert’s 12-year-old daughter was detained overnight at a police station in Oakdale, LA, after allegedly talking to schoolmates about a social-media post she said she received that threatened violence against the school.

School management, it seems, decided the girl had received no such threat and turned her over to the police, who decided to charge the child with “terrorizing.”

And this:

“You can’t joke about this stuff. It’s just unacceptable behavior in today’s world,” said Sheriff Craig DuMond in Delaware County in New York, where an 8-year-old was arrested in March on a felony charge of terroristic threat for allegedly threatening to burn down his school in Davenport, NY.

With adults, maybe.  But with children?  This is ridiculous, not least because, as minors, they are by definition incapable of making their own calls on such matters.  As a practical matter, though, they’re just too inexperienced—they literally haven’t lived long enough—to be able to form such judgments or to reason through the associated implications.  And: it’s the nature of children to push boundaries as they seek out their places in the world—and to change those places.

And this:

“If you threaten a school, you are going to be charged,” said Eric Smith, a prosecutor in Macomb County in Michigan, where 54 students have been charged in school-threat cases in the two months since Parkland, up from 17 in all of last year. “We get a lot of kids saying they were just joking, wanted attention, were acting out against bullies. Law enforcement doesn’t know if it’s real or not.”

Don’t know, therefor it’s OK to arrest them, lock them up, then do the investigation.  Guilt by accusation, guilt by dislike of what’s being said.  Jokes are no joke.

Even with adults, though, the matter is contextual; blanket bans are just the inflexibility of intolerance, and it suffocates even legitimate interactions.

My usual question, this time for school management and the police: what’s your limiting principle? Where will this naturally stop, and joking around—including dark humor joking—be successfully discriminated from actual threat?

And: is the “zero” tolerance foolish, or is it dangerous to our liberty?

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