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Honolulu cops allegedly handcuffed and detained a 10-year-old Black girl with disabilities after she was accused of drawing an “offensive sketch of a student” who had bullied her, according to a letter sent to state and city officials by a local law firm and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii this week.
Ultimately, the child was held for over four hours by either school staff or police. By the time she was released, she “was very hungry and exhausted,” according to the letter.
The child, described only as N.B. in the Oct. 18 letter, was traumatized by the January 2020 incident, which occurred after a school parent demanded a police response to the drawing. The handcuffs left marks on her wrists, the letter alleges, and she didn’t understand why she was being arrested; while she drew the picture, other children had colored or written on it, yet none of them were detained, and charges weren’t ever brought against her. Once at the police precinct, N.B. couldn’t even follow officers’ orders to take off her earrings and shoelaces, since her mother usually did those things for her, according to the letter.
“After N.B.’s arrest, in addition to the trauma of being interrogated and arrested as a ten year old, she had to change schools before the end of the school year and eventually moved out of state without her mother, who remained in Hawaii for a new job with the U.S. Department of Defense,” the letter reads.
Now, the ACLU of Hawaii and Caballero Law—which represent the girl and her mother—are demanding state policy changes, including a ban on school staff calling police unless there’s an imminent threat, among other reforms. They’re also requesting that the city and state pay the mother and child $500,000 in damages for their “harm and suffering.”
While the Honolulu sketch mentioned in the ACLU’s letter isn’t described in detail, Honowai Elementary allegedly called the police on the girl over the drawing at the insistence of another school parent, whom police and school staff described as “difficult” and unreasonable, according to the letter. The person who complained was not even the parent of the student who received the drawing—which was completed by several students, not just N.B., according to the letter.
N.B.’s mother was also called. While she implored the school’s vice principal not to bring in the cops, a police officer was already at the elementary school when she showed up. The officer told her that they were attempting to negotiate with the parent, but didn’t say what for. Then, a separate cop said the parent wanted to press charges.
The mother “expressed some concern about being African American in an encounter with the police,” the letter reads. “With that, she wanted to convey how deeply worried she was about N.B.’s and her 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.”
Ultimately, N.B. was suspended from school, put in a police car, and driven to a Honolulu precinct as her mother cried “loudly and full of anguish,” according to the letter.
“I was stripped of my rights as a parent and my daughter was stripped of her right of protection and representation as a minor,” her mother wrote in a follow-up complaint to Honowai Elementary and Leeward District Superintendent Keith Hu last January. “There was no understanding of diversity, African American culture and the presence of police involvement with African-American youth.”
She requested that her daughter be immediately disenrolled from the school. In May of 2020, she also filed a complaint against the three officers who had responded to the elementary school..
The letter, which alleges that both N.B. and mother were falsely imprisoned and discriminated against, is addressed to the City and County of Honolulu's Corporation Counsel, the interim chief of the Honolulu Police Department, the interim superintendent of the state’s Department of Education, and the state’s deputy attorney general.
Gary Yamashiroya, a special assistant to the attorney general, said in an email to VICE News that the agency is “aware of the letter and will discuss with the Department of Education to provide a response.” Other agencies did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
The ACLU’s letter is asking for a response by Nov. 8.