While there is a growing correlation between issues arising with students in schools and the immediate resort to the criminal justice system as a solution, there are situations which just make one wonder who is more disabled? From Fox in Atlanta comes this story of Shane Finn, a 14 year old autistic student with an IQ of 75 at Ridgeview Charter School and not a particularly good artist.
Shane Finn’s mother said he was in a special needs class when he drew a picture of two stick figures, and one had a gun.
The eighth grade boy’s picture depicted a stick figure with a gun that was labeled “me.” The figure was shooting another figure that had his teacher’s name above it.
The picture led to Finn being suspended, and he is now facing criminal charges.
“They’ve pressed felony charges for terroristic threats,” said the teen’s mother, Karen Finn. “It’s that sweeping zero tolerance and I think it’s ridiculous.”
There is certainly good reason to have a talk with the student about why this isn’t a good thing to do, what he meant by it (if anything), and how it makes his teacher feel. But all of this needs to come within the context of his comprehension.
Finn said her son drew the picture on the page of a school assignment where his teacher would easily see it. Finn says her son doesn’t really understand why he’s in trouble. Finn said her son is autistic and has the mental capacity of a third grader.
Even if the teacher’s peculiar sensibilities are offended, and assuming the charter school, like so many others, has the dreaded “zero tolerance” policy that compels it to act in monumentally foolish ways toward conduct that reasonableness suggests would be better dealt with by the exercise of thoughtfulness, what kind of prosecutor would charge a kid like this?
One can only assume that eventually, someone will decide that this young man, whose limitations already present enough of a challenge in life, really isn’t a threat of any sort, no less a terrorist one.
As long as this absurd story is on the table, however, it’s worth considering a different angle. Why is this a “terrorist” threat? The use of the word “terror” as almost Pavlovian, conjuring up the image of the twin towers collapsing and compelling otherwise reasonable people to blindly forego basic liberties to protect themselves from Jihad. Will Shane Finn be described as a “homegrown terrorist” perhaps, or will there be allegations of his having been trained in drawing by the Taliban?
The word “terrorist” has become one of the most abused words in the criminal justice system, and its Orwellian impact is no doubt intentional. If nothing else, the absurdity of this case offers an opportunity to recognize just how crazy this has all become, and how it is used to manipulate public perception. I would like to suggest that this is about as bad as it gets, but somehow we all know that there will be a worse example down the road. There always is.