Gang Sweeps: Did police violate a student’s Fourth Amendment rights?
How would you feel if you were pulled out of your lunch period, taken to the office by police and accused of a crime you didn’t commit?
Taking the scenario a step further, how would you feel if the police proceeded to search your bag and shoot photos of you for their file?
This happened to Kaleb Winston, a 14-year-old in Salt Lake City, Utah, and his parents are saying the school and law enforcement violated their son’s rights.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, when he was pulled out of lunch last month, Winston was questioned about the graffiti patterns on his backpack – which his parents bought at a department store in the fall – and asked about sketches he made in art class, which police said resembled gang insignia. Police also searched his backpack. When Winston told them he was not involved in a gang, the officers said they didn’t believe him, saying teachers tipped them off that he had been spraying “Maze” graffiti around the school.
|The protection against unreasonable search and seizure is given to us by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A search can mean everything from a blood test to police searching an individual’s bag, as they did with Winston. But not all searches are off-limits, and schools are one area where courts have said officials have more leeway in searches, such as random locker searches and required drug tests for athletes.
Before allowing him to leave, the officers took a photo of Winston holding a sign saying “My name is Kaleb Winston and I am a gang tagger,” the Tribune reported. Winston was one of several students questioned as part of the school’s Dec. 16 gang sweep.
Gang violence is a serious problem in schools across the country. Principals and administration have the difficult task of working to prevent it and promote safety while respecting the rights of students. It’s a difficult line to walk, and oftentimes schools that favor more protection are viewed as discriminatory. Last fall, a school district in Colorado was accused of violating students’ free speech rights when it tried to ban crosses and religious symbols – because some gangs had adopted those symbols.
In this case, Winston may have had his right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure violated, and his parents told the Tribune that they hoped the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah would take up their case. They feel that their son was targeted by police because he is black, and that the officers broke a law prohibiting them from photographing minors without a court order.
The police told the Tribune that the gang sweep was motivated after school resource officers observed an increase in graffiti around the school, along with “an upswing in gang attire,” and that the sweep was meant “to dissuade kids from participating in gang activity.”
What do you think?
Did police violate a Salt Lake City student’s Fourth Amendment rights when they conducted a gang sweep? Is it better for schools to favor more protection against gang violence or more protection of students’ rights? Is gang violence a problem in your school? If so, how do the school district and local police deal with it? Could they deal with it better? Join the discussion!
Join the Discussion