The New York Police Department last month arrested and detained in handcuffs a seven-year-old boy over accusations that he stole $5 from a fellow elementary school student four days earlier. The December 4 incident came to light after Wilson Reyes’ parents filed a $250 million lawsuit against the NYPD, alleging the boy was verbally, physically and emotionally abused, intimidated, humiliated, embarrassed and defamed.
His parents snapped a photo of the boy handcuffed to a wall at the police precinct, which was published on the front page of the New York Post. The details of the incident are in dispute, including how long Reyes was detained, whether he actually stole the $5 and whether he physically assaulted the other boy in the incident. But reports confirm that charges were filed against the boy for robbery and weren’t dropped until December 26. Unnamed law enforcement sources said they treated the incident like any involving a juvenile:
We responded to a 911 call of a robbery and assault . . . Eventually, [Wilson] was taken back to the precinct and placed in the juvenile room.
He was charged with robbery. The allegation was that he punched the kid and took his money. He took the money forcibly.
The kid came into the precinct a little bit after 3 p.m., and he was out by 7:45 p.m. . . . That’s standard for a juvenile arrest.
The alleged victim, a classmate who says he is frequently bullied by Reyes, told the New York Daily News that Reyes punched the boy and stole $5 as he was walking home from school on November 30, four days before police arrested him in a classroom in the Bronx. School officials told the Post the incident occurred off grounds and it is unclear whether the school solicited police intervention.
But whether or not Reyes was a “bully” does not explain why police allegedly pulled a seven-year-old boy out of class, let alone handcuffed him to a wall, days after the altercation was over and done with. The criminalization of young children, particularly as an alternative means of school discipline, is an alarming trend that disproportionately funnels minority students into the criminal justice system.
The NYPD has been under fire for harsh policing tactics, particularly regarding stop-and-frisks in the Bronx. These police stops were applied so aggressively and disproportionately in 2011 that there were more stops of young black men than the total number of young black men in the city.
Recognizing these trends, the city’s Public Advocate condemned the incident, saying:
Seven-year-olds don’t belong in handcuffs. As a parent, I wouldn’t stand for this in one of my kids’ schools. Our school system’s overreliance on the NYPD as a disciplinary tool traumatizes our young people, sows distrust in our communities and drains vital City resources away from responding to genuine crimes. This has to stop.