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  • One Nation Under Arrest: The End of the Pocket Knife

    Chapter 5 of One Nation Under Arrest is titled “Criminalizing Kids.” This chapter includes stories demonstrating that it is not just adults who face the dangers of overcriminalization. The prevailing mindset among most legislators and government policy makers is that criminal law and criminal punishment are generally the best tools to “solve” any important problem. As a result, more and more children have been victimized by overcriminalization.

    The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” but not even Miles Rankin’s Scout Master could have prepared Miles for the injustice this twelve-year-old adventurer would suffer in Henry County, Georgia. Miles Rankin was a dedicated student with good grades. In addition to being diligent in his studies, Miles was learning to serve his community with the Boy Scouts.

    So it was shocking to many when they saw Miles being handcuffed in class, marched through his school by uniformed police officers, and taken away in a squad car to a juvenile detention facility. What was his offense? He did not take his coveted Boy Scout pocket knife out of his pocket before leaving home that morning.

    Unfortunately, cases like these have become increasingly common. In an effort to solve specific problems, lawmakers and public officials are eager to pass laws and implement policies that criminalize behavior regardless of the offender’s intent. Miles’s case is a perfect example. After showing some of his friends the two-inch pocket knife, one of them informed the teacher. None of the students who saw the knife said they felt threatened, nor did they think Miles might harm someone. There was no evidence that Miles had any intention of doing anything wrongful with the knife. While a school has every right to impose reasonable and appropriate discipline upon a student if his behavior violates school policy or poses a risk to others, the school board’s actions in this case were downright ludicrous. As if the humiliation of being treated like a common criminal in his own school and in front of his peers was not enough, that is only half of Miles’s story.

    After being taken to a detention facility, Miles was brought to juvenile court where Henry County officials added additional restraints. The presiding judge, who coincidentally also served as the attorney for the school board, decided that Miles should remain in the detention center. Only after Miles had spent 48 hours away locked up were his parents able to pick him up on conditional release. Following his stint in juvenile detention, the school held a disciplinary hearing, where he freely admitted to bringing the knife to school. The frightened 12-year-old was subsequently expelled for the remainder of the year. The Rankin family appealed the punishment, but the Henry County school board simply reviewed the transcript without conducting an independent inquiry of its own before affirming the school’s decision. Compounding the hardship Miles faced, the juvenile court deemed Miles “in a state of delinquency” and ordered him to serve thirty days under house arrest, imposed a curfew on him, and placed him on 180 days of probation.

    Miles’ story is not unique. Dozens of other innocent Americans like Miles have suffered from the arbitrary and unjust exercise of power that comes from overbroad criminal laws. When a Boy Scout’s merely carrying a two-inch pocket knife is a crime, we are in grave danger of criminalizing almost everything. This is just one example of “overcriminalization,” and you can read about more in “One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty” and at our web site, Overcriminalized.com

    Miles Rankin’s legal troubles stemmed from the zero-tolerance policy in his school. Zero-tolerance policies result in part from the propensity of many parents to challenge and even sue school officials for almost any exercise of professional judgment and discretion. Many school boards and administrators try to protect themselves by adopting zero-tolerance policies that allow for no exercise of judgment at all. Zero-tolerance policies do nothing, however, to engender respect for the law or for the officials who tie their hands with them.

    Of course, protecting students is a top priority, but in the process of ensuring safety, lawmakers and public officials must not abandon common sense and professional judgment. Miles Rankin and his family’s life have been scarred by an indiscriminate group of administrators who found it easier to hide behind a zero-tolerance policy than to exercise sound judgment. They were so caught up in their own policy that they could not appreciate the real-life consequences of such an irresponsible application of law.

    What kind of message does that send to society? Miles’s situation resulted from a knife he used in the Boy Scouts. He was not a gang member planning an attack on a fellow classmate. Like thousands upon thousands of Scouts before him, Miles was showing off one of the tools he learned to use while also learning the principles of good citizenship and how to serve his community. After this deplorable application of criminal law and school policy by Henry County’s public officials, maybe they too could benefit from a lesson in these virtues. And perhaps clear-thinking voters later gave them one.

    Scott Burton is an intern in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm

    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    29 Responses to One Nation Under Arrest: The End of the Pocket Knife

    1. Dr.D, Iowa says:

      As a child, I carried my pocket knife to school all the way through school, college, graduate school, etc. I seem to recall hearing that we had rules that we were not supposed to have knives, but I decided that if I kept it in my pocket, it would do no harm. And do you know, it did none. I even used it a few times and no one said any thing, but then common sense was much more common 50+ years ago.

    2. Mike says:

      Great article and reporting, Scott! I appreciate the awareness and information! The fact that administrators and boards hide behind policies rather than make the tough decisions is so true.

    3. Bill Inman says:

      This just displays how far we have drifted into the absured. I carried a small pocket knife 12 years of school, never once did I misuse it and was never confronted for having it. We have absolutely lost any sense of reasonable behavior in the making and application of our laws. We are majoring on the minor and minoring on the major.

    4. Jeanne Stotler, wood says:

      I remember with pride, as each of my sons in BSA, earned there knife chit, this means they have passed all requirements as to the use and safety of using their knife, they did the same with an Ax and with fire. As the parent of an Eagle Scout, and one who proudly carried his knife at all times, I am appalled that this scout was arrested. Couldn't the teacher just taken the knife and told parent to come get it. We now pick on kids while the real terrorist build bombs under our noses, is there something wrong??

    5. disgusted in NC says:

      The school administrators and Henry County officials did indeed "appreciate the real-life consequences of such an irresponsible application of law." To them – zero. As is pointed out in the article, "Zero-tolerance policies result in part from the propensity of many parents to challenge and even sue school officials for almost any exercise of professional judgment and discretion. Many school boards and administrators try to protect themselves…"

      This kind of nonsense is the fault of the courts which consented to hear frivolous or malicious lawsuits, and also of the parents who are either leftist or looking for a "lottery lawsuit" so they won't have to work for the rest of their lives. Morality is what is missing in this nation.

      "Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." – John Adams. And in newly-born America, "religion" meant Christianity and no other religion. As a Baptist preacher once pointed out, "You can't have the results of Christianity without Christianity."

      There are no shortcuts and no substitutes.

    6. Tim Az says:

      Just an example of what happens when an individual strays from the group thought and actions that is being instilled in children through govt. run schools. I can only hope that from this day forward from this experience he will be prepared to battle this type of liberal nonsense through out the rest of his life.

    7. Richard Hart----OR 9 says:

      I have carried a pocket knife all my life. I was raised on a farm and used my knife for cutting twine on the hay to cleaning under my finger nails. What a shame that a young boy can not show show his pride in his Boy Scout Pocket Knife, that has many tool with it, to his friends. Also to have a peer "ratted" on him. Did the rat get special treatment from the school for his dastardly deed? It seems we are see our young children learning to spy on one another and then it will be neighbors and parents.

    8. Craft, George Baden says:

      It would have been so much easier for the teacher to just hold on to the knife until after school. What more humiliating thing to do to a 12 year old! Who changed the simple life we had just a few years ago to this political mess?

    9. Leah Oregon says:

      I know that financially it would be difficult for many but for many reasons this being an example of just one, WE CAN NOT LEAVE OUR KIDS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, I know for many home schooling is not an option either but these people can not be trusted with our most precious people. Cut meat out of your diet, dont go out to eat. Cut the cable, sell one car, shop at good will. There are many ways to save the approx 250.00 per month it takes to send your child to Christian school. This is only a symptom of what public schools are doing, they are changing our history, they teach scientific guessing as scientific fact. Maybe the government will get a hint when the public schools are empty. Maybe then they will let us parents raise our own children.

    10. oldgraymare, Chicago says:

      Imagine that. A kid goes to school in Georgia with a Boy Scout pocket knife and gets bullied and traumatized for life and the school administrators are only condemned as overzealous. A kid can go to school in Chicago and get shot or beaten to death with a two-by-four, beaten or stabbed, and the superintendent can go to D.C. and run the nation's schools. And the community organizer in charge of Annenberg money for the schools can go to D.C. and ru(i)n the country. Go figure.

    11. Wm; Ky says:

      I too "carried" this lethal weapon thru school. I remember our 3rd grade teacher asking for a knife in class to open a newly arrived box. Over half the class, including girls, went for their pocket. I remember taking my shotgun to the principal's office, there to await a squirrel hunt after school. Never thought about stabbing or shooting a person. You cannot dictate morals via legislation/laws. The foolishness of the Liberal Socialist Progressive Left would have. All is attributable to the general decline in this "new America" where anything goes. Written by a 56 yo Republican rapidly becoming a Libertarian. Truly tired of the federal intrusions and this childish PC mentality.

    12. Lloyd Scallan - New says:

      Wake up America! This is yet another part of Obama master plan. Just wait. More to come. Hillary is about to sign an agreement with the UN to control

      all firearms world wide. It's just beginning unless we are willing to step up and

      do what has to be done, before our America is lost. And I don't mean tea parties and votes.

    13. Stan Wright, Hawaii says:

      Last year our state legislature introduced a bill to ban the carring of a pocket knife in Hawaii. Needless to say, many of us use a pocket knife in our everyday work. But the clencher came when I called my legislature (who introduced the bill) and said I was bringing our BoyScout troop and Cub Scout pack down to the capital to testify. We were all bringing our Boy Scout pocket knives and "Toten Chip" showing we were qualified to carry one.

      He immediatly withdrew the bill……

    14. JayG says:

      In high school I was a member of the rifle team and during the season carried my rifle to and from school. I walked to school through the neighborhood and onto school property with no one giving a second glance. Has our society deteriorated so much that we are mortally afraid of our children?

    15. Pingback: Criminalizing Kids « A Voice in the Wilderness

    16. Corky, Howey in the says:

      We can put a 12 year old kid in the lock up for a small knife but we can send "ILLEGAL" immigrants back to their own Country. We can punish a boy for a knife but can't punish a President for being a habitual liar! This truly is the United States of the Offended!!! GOD help us all….

    17. Spiritof76, NH says:

      We all read articles like this, shake our heads and go on with our lives facing similar bureaucratic nigtmares. Isn't there somethign we can do to support Miles and his family. The US has become a nation of sheep and cowards.

    18. BAMorris, Raleigh, N says:

      As an Eagle Scout & the Silver Award (Explorer Eagle), having worked hard and raised a family and been actively involved in all the communities I have lived in I had no idea until I see stories like this that I was such a miscreant. I certainly would have been imprisoned as a child for the rest of my life. It took me going to college and joining the military to serve my country before I reached a level of maturity which would protect me from persecution under the rules being embraced today.

    19. K, IN says:

      I'm surprised that a discussion on the origins of "zero tolerance" policies don't include the history of how they originated as a popular means of discipline in society.

      The inception of these policies can be tracked back to legislation against the use of hand guns by children in schools, which was passed at the Federal level, and then mandated for each state to follow as well. Instead of following the language inherent in and actually required by this act, many states have taken their mandate and made the school districts, by default, responsible for the adherence to these policies and reporting of infractions.

      Instead of allowing reasonable "exceptions" as mandated at most states and the federal level, schools are instead restricting student's rights to due process and/or first amendment freedom of speech/expression. Extensive research has shown the use of these policies as inappropriate and counterproductive in the development of our students, and yet, they still abound.

      More people need to be aware of not only the policies themselves, but also what steps they can take to challenge these in their school districts, how they might affect their children, and what the history of these policies are.

      K – - – , IN

    20. Bud Taylor, Idaho says:

      Growing up in rural Idaho in the '40s & '50s having a knife, either pocket or hunting knife, was a fact of life necesssity for boys, and most girls. We were trained in the safe use of blades and in the ways of keeping them sharp. Were these blades left home when we went to school, heck no, and…. Many of our rural schools had rifle racks in the coat room for the use of those who, by necessity, had to hunt on the way to and from school. Oh those "evil" things, us "evil" kids.

    21. Bruce Lammert says:

      Zero Tolerance Rules for anything are created by the weak autocratically minded who can't stand the thought that anyone would challenge their opinions. Or are uncomfortable defending decisions of others. Successfully removing any chance that an adult could make an on the spot decision having to bow to some distant authority. Eliminating any object lesson to show the youth on making decisions. Circumstances have no bearing on sentencing, all that is needed is to check the published punishment matrix.

      That is unless the individual is an Non-Authorized resident countryman from a foreign land (Illegal Alien).

    22. Erik Case -- Brandon says:

      This is, with the exception of the handcuffs, exactly what happened to my son in the late 1990's in Madison, MS county Schools. If I had not experienced the events, it's hard to believe something like this could and is happening in the United States of America.

      Folks need to get involved in our government, before it's no longer our government.

      My son that was arrested served in the U S Marines with the author of "One Nation Under Arrest" to preserve "One Nation under God" — Simper Fi!!

    23. Owen M, Wilmington,N says:

      We are a nation of laws, but unfortunately we have become a nation of lawmakers. We graduate more lawyers in one year than all of the lawyers in Japan. We have substituted common sense and good judgement with laws. This incident certainly demonstrates the fact that we have created a society with a "lawsuit" mentality and the need to think of this before we act on anything. Drive down any highway in America and you see the billboards by lawfirms for handling a lawsuit for almost anything. This thinking adds about 10% to 20% of the cost of healthcare as doctors and hospitals needing to protect themselves from frivolous actions.

      We have surpassed the ridiculousness of Orwell's "1984" and wonder why things have gotten so bad. We need to change and change soon before our country is no longer our country.

    24. Mark,Spokane WA. says:

      Has anyone explored the possibilities of forming their own community schools? How about subtracting those costs from your taxes at the same time? In fact, how about keeping them and fund your own programs as you see fit to need in your own communities. Certainly no one else knows or cares at the government end, and it still needs to be done! So why not do it ourselves?

    25. Pingback: Weekend Reader 5-28-2010, News & Commentary - The Five Boxes of Liberty

    26. Aubrey GA says:

      Georgia has numerous counties operating under Zero Tolerance. Meaning intelligence or common sense not required. Fayette County arrested a young man for having a machete in his truck. no charge was mentioned for the chainsaw also in the truck. The young man was using both in landscaping work after school. Fayette County's response, zero tolerance.

    27. jaxon, ma says:

      vote libertarian and get these lawmakers out of office. we need more ron paul candidates.

    28. Tom Ligon, VA says:

      Schools are about the worst offenders when it comes to using zero tolerance policies. My favorite example is the 5-year-old boy expelled for sexual harrassment after he kissed a 5-year-old girl. Back it the day, this would have been considered a cute subject for a Norman Rockwell painting, not the basis for a criminal complaint. Evidently the schools have decided to teach our kids that good judgement should be avoided at all costs.

    29. Teresa, Ohio says:

      I agree that things could have been handled much different. And seeing the post referring to sending children to a christian school isn't the answer – truthfully – they aren't much better. We homeschool our children – however our daughter went to public school up until 5th grade. She now takes 2 classes in the morning in order to play on the school's sports team. What would parents have said if a student did cause harm with a pocket knife to others in the school. Are we racial profiling here by saying that he wasn't in a gang, etc. That only kids that are in gangs are capable of such things. Come on – as parents, children of schools today we all know the policies – zero tolerance, means zero tolerance. Do we all say, "Did God really say you will die from eating the fruit?" Follow the rules set forth. It's as simple as that – or should be anyway.

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