By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, Associated Press
Honolulu police officers and officials with Hawaii’s public school system discriminated against a disabled Black child by handcuffing, arresting and interrogating the 10-year-old girl for a “run-of-the-mill” dispute between children, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii said.
The ACLU sent a letter Monday to the Honolulu Police Department, the state Department of Education and the state attorney general’s office demanding the statewide school district make policy changes, including forbidding staff from calling police on a student unless the student presents an imminent threat of significant harm to someone.
Honowai Elementary officials called police to the Waipahu school in 2020 because the girl allegedly drew an offensive sketch of a student who was bullying her, according to the ACLU letter. The parent of another child wanted to press charges.
The girl’s mother went to the school and was falsely imprisoned when school staff and police prevented her leaving two rooms she was confined to, the letter said.
The mother “expressed some concern about being African American in an encounter with the police” and was worried about her daughter’s safety “in light of the police presence given the high rate of police violence against Black people, and the discriminatory disciplining of Black girls in schools,” the letter said.
The ACLU wants the city and state to pay $500,000 in damages to the child and her mother.
The ACLU is giving police, education officials and the state attorney general’s office until Nov. 8 to respond.
“The Department of the Attorney General is aware of the letter and will work with the Department of Education to respond,” Gary Yamashiroya, special assistant to the attorney general, said Monday.
Honolulu police are reviewing the letter and will work with city attorneys to “address these allegations,” said Sarah Yoro, a spokesperson for the the police department.
The letter described how the mother cried in horror while watching police drive her daughter away in handcuffs.
The girl later told her mother police made the child remove her shoelaces and earrings at the police station, but she didn’t know how. The handcuffs left marks on the girl’s wrists, the ACLU said.
“The mother and daughter were singled out because of their race, both perceived and treated as ‘more dangerous,’ less rational, and less worthy of respect for their rights than the non-Black students and parents involved,” the ACLU letter said.
The child later moved with relatives to the U.S. mainland while her mom stayed behind for her new job with the Department of Defense. The mother eventually left Hawaii, too.