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When All You Have Is A Sledge Hammer


Every once in a while, a video appears that serves as a sort of litmus test of one’s perspective toward police, teens, school and the use of force. The video of School Resource Officer Tyler McRae and 18-year-old high school student Tauris Sledge is one such video.

This is the short vid. The full video is over an hour and, as one would expect, provides far greater context. It begins with the SRO entering the gym, where he was called by the school staff.

The affidavit says the school’s gym coach contacted the SRO, Tyler McRae, to assist with an aggressive student identified as Tauris Sledge.

The coach had planned for a kickball game but the affidavit says Sledge refused to participate and said he was not feeling well.

But when it was free time Sledge started playing basketball.

When the coach addressed him about this, the affidavit says Sledge “puffed out his chest” and called the coach racist and other names.

The affidavit says McRae showed up while Sledge was ‘loudly and aggressively’ arguing with the coach in front of students and other administrators.

To many, the characterization of what followed was a child being beaten and pepper sprayed because he didn’t want to play kickball. And while it may be correct that this incident began because Sledge didn’t want to play kickball, there were numerous intervening factors that changed it from being about kickball to being about Sledge’s belligerence, disrespect and refusal to do as he was asked or told.

To be clear, none of these things, Sledge’s child-like replies notwithstanding, involved the use of force so as to justify the SRO’s elevating his recalcitrant target into a forcible seizure. This was a school. This was a student. This was a student behaving badly. It’s not the first time this happened in the history of schools, and it’s been addressed in the past without teachers or administrators calling in the SRO to make their problem go away.

Two notable points here, that had there been no SRO in the school, it would have been left to the teachers and staff to deal with Sledge’s bad attitude and big mouth. That they called in the SRO to handle it is on the school’s shoulders, not the SRO’s. He became involved at their request. And he’s an SRO, not a teacher, mother or therapist. After the persuasive clout of his uniform falls short, he’s got few tools in his bag other than to seize a non-compliant student. Had the SRO let it go, let Sledge take to the bleachers after defying the teacher and him, would other students comply with his orders knowing that they can tell him to get lost and he will?

Whether the SRO should have been called in, and should have used fairly significant force in a school against a non-compliant, but non-violent, student is one issue. I’m of the view that regardless of the SRO’s lacking any other cop-tools in his bag, force was the wrong way to deal with the problem and the force employed was excessive. While the justification was not, as some see it, that Sledge didn’t want to play kickball, his resistance to the SRO’s commands, particularly in a school setting, was not an appropriate justification for force. There is a caveat, if there was some history of Sledge having used force in resisting the direction of his teachers, school staff or the SRO in the past, but since there are no facts to suggest this was the case, it cannot be assumed.

Yet, what can a school do? When I posed this question, the responses were largely unavailing.

  • Call Sledge’s parents and have them come to school and deal with their child.
  • Give him a failing grade, either for the day’s participation or in the class.
  • Give him detention.
  • Suspend or expel him.
  • Take him to a place to calm down (even though that seems to be what Sledge resisted).
  • Have the principal or school disciplinarian deal with him.
  • Run through the ordinary panoply of school disciplinary measures, but don’t use force.

To some extent, these “solutions” rely on assumptions that the usual school disciplinary measures, and those who address and impose them, would have accomplished anything. Some would have simply let it go if there was no viable solution short of force. Would Sledge’s parents come and address their child’s conduct, or would they have either failed to show or taken their child’s side against the teacher and staff? Would an F for the day or the class have mattered to Sledge?

Given that Sledge’s reaction to the teacher was to call him racist, and his reaction to the SRO putting his hand on his arm to issue an ultimatum suggesting that Sledge would do something if the SRO failed to remove his hand at Sledge’s demand, was there any mechanism by which the situation could be diffused and de-escalated short of the teacher, staff and SRO acquiescing to Sledge?

And if so, would it have undermined school discipline and control of its students to let Sledge get his way and make the school appear impotent in dealing with a non-compliant student? And what was the impact of this disruption on the education of other students? As it turned out, they walked out of school and protested.

Calling in the SRO certainly exacerbated the situation and made a fairly mundane school disciplinary problem into a far larger, worse and more violent encounter. That cannot be a good solution for anyone, even if you’re of the view that the SRO was right to seize an 18-year-old student in school. But what is a serious solution that doesn’t rely on the behavioral fantasies that there was some easy magic fix that would have caused Sledge to be respectful and compliant in school? Or is the best answer to shrug and let Sledge have his way because big deal? For many, it appears that this last option was preferable, but then, can schools function if they have no meaningful way to control student behavior?


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