Security Guard Pepper Sprayed Middle Schoolers During Lunch

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by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Black Like Moi.

School officials are trying to figure out why a security guard used pepper spray to slow down a food fight in a Norfolk Middle School.   Parents are outraged that a guard at the Lafayette-Winona Middle School used what appears to be unnecessary force to calm the students down.  Some of the children have suffered asthma attacks as a result.

Five parents have reached out to the school to express their concern:

“It was just terrible in there,” 12-year-old Derrell Hairston said.

“He stayed up all night coughing and gagging I just feel like you can’t treat these kids like animals they’re going to act like animals,” Hairston’s mother, Tyheshia, added.

“I’d be upset absolutely I don’t blame the parents for being upset I understand that,” said Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Richard Bentley.

“…we’re still investigating the facts, we don’t have all the facts yet okay and it would be inappropriate for me to speak about that until we completed the investigation,” he said.

The school’s security policy says that the officer must only give a warning before using the spray.  The kids, however, are saying that she didn’t give any warning before firing.

“She just started spraying pepper spray she didn’t warn nobody or nothing,” said Derrell Hairston.

The school’s principal, Tracey Flemings sent a letter home to parents :

” Yesterday during your child’s lunch period, one of our school security officers determined that it was necessary to use pepper spray to end a food fight. Children who were in the vicinity of the incident, or any who complained of physical symptoms, were examined by the school nurse. We contacted their parents.

Please be assured that Norfolk Public Schools has specific policy and procedures regarding the use of pepper spray by our school security officers, and all officers are thoroughly trained. I am working in partnership with the Norfolk Public Schools Department of Pupil Personnel Services to determine whether yesterday’s use of the pepper spray met our policy and procedures. If we find that the protocols were not followed, appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that it does not happen again.

It’s not unexpected that this school appears to be predominantly black.  Excessive punishment of black kids is a problem that occurs all throughout the United States.   When a kid should simply be given detention, he is suspended.  Instead of being suspended, he is taken away in handcuffs.  All of this is part of the natural structural connection our nation has created between dysfunctional school systems and money-hungry penitentiaries starving for more slave labor.  The futures of black children are considered to be worthless, so administrators spend less time considering the long-term ramifications of their decisions when it comes to how they punish black kids.

A 2008 report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that while black students are only 17 percent of the school population, they make up 36 percent of the children who are paddled.  A recent analysis by the Chicago Tribune shows that nation-wide, black children are punished at a rate that is far greater than white kids.   They show that in every state except Idaho, black students are suspended at a rate that is greater than their percentage in the population.  On average, black students are suspended at a rate that is three times greater than that of white students.

The guard who decided that children should be pepper sprayed needs to be fired and possibly put on trial in the court of law.  The school should be sued by the parents involved.  Citizens in the community should rally at school board meetings and make it abundantly clear that their children are no more criminal, deviant or deserving of police brutality than the white kids in the suburbs. The futures of our children are at stake, and if we don’t intervene, our kids will continue to be disproportionately criminalized.

There is no excuse for what happened at this school.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. 


10 Comment


  2. Any attempt to portray the kids at this school as innocent little angels being assualted by the Nazi security guards, is beyong naive and ignorant. Some of these middle schools are like maximum security prisons, where the inmates only show up for two free meals and to fight. If they stopped serving free meals, most wouldn’t show up. Watkins needs to do his homework, and review the disciplinary record of the school. I’ll bet they haul one week a week away in handcuffs, for some major felony.

  3. How about hiring more men as security guards? How about mandatory martial arts training for school security and administrators so that they do not need to use pepper spray?

  4. Years ago when the NAACP was able to flex serious legal muscle virtually anywhere in America, a situation like this pepper sray incident would never happen! Why? Simply because the public administrative and private powers were greatly aware and RESPECTFUL of the legal power of the NAACP. The Regan Administration with the hands on assistance of Rev. Ben Hooks successfully dismantled the powerful association between the NAACP organization and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). (Thurgood Marshall and other lawyers created the LDF as a seperate entity outside of the NAACP because it could not fund raise for itself within the NAACP organization. LDF from its creation maintained the goal of providing the NAACP national organization the legal muscle needed to support the extensive legal support needed by the NAACP’s branches across the nation. Without the LDF support the nationa NAACP has virtually no legal support available to address the many racial discrimination complaints coming into its branches from its local AA members.) Hooks successfully sued the LDF in court forcinng the LDF to completely seperate itself from the NAACP and to stop using the NAACP and name in any of its correspondance and legal documents. These and other young black students have Dr. Hooks to thank for whatever maltreatment and injustices that they receive in the course of their day to day schooling from bigoted school authorities.

  5. Our kids need to display better behavior as well and things like this wouldn’t happen!! Not condoning pepper spray usage, but our kids can show out sometimes!!!!

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  8. I’m not sure why I’m just coming across this article.. but as a school administrator.. I’m saddened by Dr. Watkin’s drawing conclusions based on the information he has here – unless he knows more about this incident than what he reports and is shown in the video. As a black administrator in school with a minority of black student who account for the vast majority of suspendable offenses I gotta say it is often the very parents of our African American children who are calling for tougher more useless sanctions like suspension. In fact, this school year we have called the police two times to assist with school related issues – once when 5 kids kicked another kids head in on the ground and another time when two parents fought each other in the school office because their daughters were not getting along. Dr. Watkins – take a step back..realize this is complicated .. and get some more facts…

  9. How Typical.

  10. Why is it when things like this happen to black children we ( I Mean US! ) tend to say things like ” Well you know our children can be a little raw” but when white children Act out as they often do the response is very different in security response to “BAD BEHAVIOR”
    is much milder unless you have a columbine situation no pepper spray billy clubs no hand cuffing white 5yr olds etc. but the black kids are viewed more violent and being so it’s necessary to do the most harm to control their uncontrolled and deviant behavior.
    Makes you wanna Say HMMMMMMM!

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