The Massachusetts State Police began investigating a six-year-old Black and Latino boy from Somerville in November of 2019 following a report that he had inappropriately touched a white female student. The events that followed revealed gross racial prejudice among the school’s administrators and fatal flaws in the infrastructure that led to this unnecessary escalation.
Despite a green mark on his behavior chart for that day, Flavia Peréa, the boy’s mother, received a call from the dean of students notifying her of her son’s inappropriate behavior, according to The Boston Globe. Peréa was told the state would be notified, but says the dean never mentioned police would be involved, which made the voicemail she received from a detective investigating the incident a great shock
Now, her second grader has a police record.
Nearly 16 months later, Peréa is still trying to get answers about the public school’s decision to contact police. Standard procedure in these situations does not even constitute the involvement of the state Department of Children and Families, let alone the police department and District Attorney’s office, who now each have records on a six-year-old.
The accounts of the incident between the two organizations also proved to be conflicting and vague, never even addressing whether the girl who was touched expressed any discomfort from the interaction for sexual reasons.
The fact that Peréa’s son received a green mark on his behavior chart for the day of the incident raises even more questions surrounding the motives at play. It is almost as if the educators who reported the boy had given no thought to the consequences of reporting a Black boy to the police so early in his life.
This is the mindset that leads to false or exaggerated accusations against people of color and especially Black men in the United States, usually followed by disproportionately harsh punishments. A 2019 report by the Council on Criminal Justice found Black people in prison serve longer sentences and are imprisoned at higher rates than white offenders of violent and drug-related crimes.
The adults in the situation enforced such extreme escalation procedures in this relatively harmless case involving a Black and Latino child pitted against a white child, which is certainly reflective of personal racial bias, but also calls into question the infrastructure that designed the response system they claim to be adhering to.
When stripped to its basic tenets, this unfortunate situation is a direct result of the culture and policy that created the discriminatory prison industrial complex in the United States today. It is woefully apparent our public education system is deeply flawed when its authorities begin to mirror the prison system in their treatment of six-year-old children.
Of course, the young girl was right to vocalize that the interaction made her uncomfortable. We ought to teach our youth to speak up about their boundaries. But when the offender is also so young, next steps for those in charge should include educational conversations around personal comfort and consent — not a state police investigation.
By telling her this touch by her classmate was deeply disturbing, the adults in this girl’s life may be causing her more shame and distress than the intended relief. Instead of receiving well-deserved praise for exercising a mature level of self-respect, she is getting concern and pity for being the “victim” of a heinous crime.
Yet, this does not only affect the two children involved in the original incident. Their entire class likely felt the repercussions and anxieties of the police investigating a situation involving two of their classmates.
Other U.S. public school students may also have been involved in or witnessed similar injustices in their classrooms. The continuous mischaracterization of Black men in America as criminals and perpetrators begins as soon as a teacher calls the principal or a dean of students calls the police.
Peréa may never get the answers she is looking for about what happened on the day that gave her six-year-old boy a record with the Massachusetts police. The only thing anyone can know for sure is that public education infrastructure is failing its Black students as soon as they step through the door.