What is it about Florida and kids? Plagued by sex offenders seemingly attracted to the Sunshine State like ants to rotting fruit, the state has enacted sex offender laws among the toughest in the nation. Clearly, Florida will spare no effort -- no matter how punitive -- to protect its children.
But it also seems Florida law enforcement and schools are scared to death of the little darlings themselves. Last year, police in Monticello arrested, book, and detained a 4'6", 60-pound, seven-year-old boy on battery charges for hitting a classmate, a teacher, and the principal. A month after that, a scuffle between two second graders in Tallahassee ended with an eight-year-old charged, handcuffed, and held overnight in a juvenile jail for battery and criminal mischief. But even these sad tales pale in comparison to a 1998 incident, also in Tallahassee, where school officials had police arrest a five-year-old girl on felony assault on an educator charges after she refused to stay in the lunch line and threw furniture.
Police in Flagler County are the latest to make an addition to the canon of overreaction. Last week, they arrested two 10-year-old girls for bringing a bag of parsley to school and pretending it was marijuana. According to an arrest report by Flagler County Sheriff's Office Cpl. Don Apperson, a school resource deputy, the two Old Kings Elementary School students were showing the bag to other students and telling them it was marijuana. Somebody squealed, school officials found out, and the girls were called to a conference with their parents. They confessed the bag contained not pot but parsley and said they were playing a prank on their classmates.
Instead of sending them to detention or barring them from a field trip or some other appropriate sanction, Apperson charged them with a crime: Possession of a fake drug. While fake drug laws are difficult to justify on any grounds -- in a sane world, people selling fake drugs would be charged with consumer fraud and not for not selling a controlled substance -- their use in this case seems especially unjustified. Still, people can be charged under the fake drug law even if it is not intended for sale or distribution.
And in Flagler County, Florida, they will be, even if they are 10-year-old girls pulling a prank. The young criminals -- for that is what they now are -- were taken to the Flagler County Inmate Facility and later released to their parents. They were also suspended from school and ordered to attend drug awareness classes.
Now, if we could only get Cpl. Apperson and Old King Elementary School administrators into a justice awareness class.