A boy is suspended from a New York City high school for carrying a metal ruler . . . a ruler issued to him by the school itself. A girl is handcuffed at a Metro train station in Washington DC and led away by the police. Her crime? Eating a sandwich on the platform. Another girl is suspended from a Virginia high school for having a pair of scissors. Scissors, of course, are sharp. There can be no debate about that. And yes, rulers can poke people in the eye. And maybe sandwiches can be lethal weapons too. I don’t know. I guess it depends on what kind of mustard.
The authorities call this kind of thing “zero tolerance.” I call it zero discretion and zero common sense. The concerns are legitimate enough. Students and teachers should be safe in school. Transit authorities shouldn’t have to clean up after messy food eaters. But when common sense is expelled from the rules, the rules themselves become an arbitrary weapon. None of these young people was threatening anyone. All the school officials had to do was say “Keep the scissors in your desk, Sally” or “What’s that ruler for?” All the DC police had to do was say, “Put the sandwich down . . . now!!”It’s easier to swat flies with a sledgehammer than to apply reasonable principles reasonably. But if the goal is a safer and more civil society not to mention justice let’s put the sledgehammer down.
These days corrupt politicians and their pals often seem to get away with anything. Why don’t we get tough on them, and leave the innocent kids alone?
This is Common Sense.Â I’m Paul Jacob.