Saturday, April 05, 2008

criminalizing boyhood

When I was a kid I owned a cool little device. It looked like a small book, about 3 by 4 inches or less. It was covered in tinfoil, and if you opened the book, you got an impressive electric jolt. Many hours of fun was had by all. Well, not _all_, but those not getting shocked got some giggles out of it.

Good thing I didn't get charged with possessing a dangerous weapon like this poor kid did:
A 14-year-old student at Morgan School in Clinton is facing a weapons charge, accused of tinkering with a disposable camera to make it capable of zapping people with an electrical charge.
The 14-year-old student has been charged with possession of a dangerous weapon on school grounds, attempted assault and breach of peace.
Just to get clear what we are talking about, take a look at this Youtube video which Gizmodo tracked down (that's where I got the original link too). You may not realize it just by watching, but this video is evidence of a series of felonious assaults. Someone needs to track down this serial shocker and put an end to his reign of terror.

So how did we come to this sad pass where a typical teenage boy is charged with a felony for engaging in typical and relatively harmless teenage-boy activity? The clue is here:
Police say the camera, modified according to instructions available on the Internet, had been converted into an improvised electronic demobilizing device similar to a Taser.
And from another article:
Haughwout [the kid's father] is none too pleased that his boy now faces felony charges over the incident, and insisted that the device doesn't even "meet the definition of a dangerous instrument, which is the next step down from a weapon."

Clinton police Sgt. Jeremiah Dunn disagreed, explaining: "It is considered a weapon, yes; an electronic demobilizing device is considered a dangerous weapon."

The unnamed teen was suspended for 10 days following his arrest, but remains in school pending an appeal.
So according to the estimable Sgt. Dunn, something that shocks you and makes you go "Ouch! Dammit! I'm going to get you for that!" is "an electronic demobilizing device".

Well there's your problem: the arresting officer is so dumb that if his nose were on upside down he would drown in the rain. You can kind of see his pea-sized little brain laboring through the problem, clicking through the implications like a well-oiled law-enforcement machine working an an especially difficult issue:
Hey! click
That thing shocks people! click
Just like ... like a ... a taser! cu-u-lick [the well-oiled machine is laboring under the strain]
And tasers are like ... weapons! cu-u-lick
So this toy is a weapon! cu-u-u-u-u-u-lick
Hey, trying to attack someone with a weapon is a felony!
His well-oiled machine of a mind is clearly too exhausted at this point to go back and rethink any of the steps of his reasoning. Much easier to just cuff the kid and drag him off to face felony charges.

I should have guessed the rationalization behind the felony charges because the original article said that the camera had been modified into a taser. Well, yea, in the sense that stretching a rubber band from your index finger turns your hand into a firearm. The same sort of well-oiled reasoning would lead to the following
That finger shoots projectiles!
Just like ... like a ... a gun!
And guns are deadly weapons!
So this finger has been modified into a deadly weapon!
But the mental limitations of the police officer are not the only factor. There is also the twit of a teacher who called the cops in the first place. Why would a teacher call the cops on a 14-year-old boy? Was the kid being hostile and hard to control? Did he attack someone? Well, no. Apparently the teacher grabbed the camera away from the kid and got a shock. There is no indication whether the shock was caused by deliberate action of the kid or if was just an accident. Since no one claims the kid did anything to cause the shock, I'm betting it was an accident. But the teacher got pissed off anyway and he figured he would get even with the kid by calling the cops. If I was the school principle I'd fire the man as a sorry excuse for an adult. But the truth is, the principle was probably consulted before calling the cops on a 14-year-old for having a prank-enabled device at school.

And to make it worse, no article I saw specifically claims that the kid even tried to use it on anyone. He was apparently bragging about it, not trying to use it, so he didn't even try to shock anyone. But the teacher and the cop are going to hurt him as much as they possibly can anyway. What a couple of pricks.

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