Saturday, November 16, 2013

Shackles for Native children by Dr. Devon Peña

Do check out this sickening account of how we have treated children in our past as a country.  This is a Nov. 8th piece from his post.  Some of this leaves us with an enduring, if perverse, legacy. -Angela

Child shackles used on native children. RHDefense
Shackles for Native children

Devon G. Peña | Seattle, WA | November 8, 2013

I often peruse the News-feed on Facebook because it is actually a fairly good place to find an exceptionally diverse range of iconic images that somehow speak deeply to the history, culture, politics, and current events that immerse the entire nation in race and race consciousness. On the FB page called Strange World, today I found a photograph of what appears to be a old rusted set of iron shackles. They are very tiny and designed to be used on children. The narrator provides this description:
These are actual tiny child handcuffs used by the U.S. government to restrain captured Native American children and drag them away from their families to send them to the Indian boarding schools where their identities, cultures and their rights to speak their Native languages were forcefully stripped away from them.
There is a criminal defense law blog that also posted the same photograph but with the following commentary, emphasizing the “…horror of their brutal purpose, which was to restrain Native children who were being brought to boarding schools.” Jessica Lackey (Cherokee) describes the experience of holding the heavy handcuffs for the first time: “I felt the weight of their metal on my heart.” 
I cannot address the accuracy of these statements here but I have also listened to recollections about grandmothers, aunts, and uncles who retained their indigenous souls by silently singing ceremonial prayers inside their heads against the cold and barren Protestant walls. This resilience in the face of brutal child abuse that many relations experienced as kidnapped youth is a big chapter in the long history of institutionalized violence of the settler society. The shackles are there at the beginning; when the missionaries and lawmen initiate the first cruel act of violent forced separation and imprisonment. This was followed by years of discipline and punish and daily-lived abuse in the boarding schools that had been designed, like concentration camps, to “beat the Indian” out of the child. I was drawn to this photograph in part because of recent incidents that tie this historical occurrence with present-day police and state violence against native children and youth of color.

Ten-year old in shackles. Steve Mitchell | USA Today
Here are three other photographs that speak to the practice of shackling children, which is still very much a part of the settler correctional culture and its policing of the population to enforceconformity and acquiescence. I remember the first photo from aUSA Today story I read some five years ago (2007). The story, “Should kids go to court in chains?” focuses on a widespread policy involving the use of shackles on juvenile suspects being tried or managed under the juvenile court system. A disproportionate number of these are African American, Latina/o, Native American, and immigrant youth. 
A blogger by the name of Krazee Kop, got me started on a new direction when I saw a post on how “Child advocacy groups in North Carolina are attacking the practice of shackling children during juvenile court hearings as unlawful and emotionally abusive.” Krazee Kop continues by sarcastically repeating a thin blue-line mantra, noting how Sheriff's officials say “it’s necessary to keep troubled children from running away or disrupting court…[Yet]…criticism of the practice has been growing around the country, with litigation cropping up from Florida to California to North Dakota. The legal controversy arrived in North Carolina on Monday when lawyers filed a motion in Greensboro protesting the shackling of a 14-year-old girl facing larceny charges.”
The shackles are more than just icons of the deep history of violence that marks the passage of the United States from its origins in slavery and genocide and across beyond the 20th century to the abuse of children and youth under the neoliberal juridical order.
Convict costume

The second photo (seen here to the left) seems even more jarring to my senses. I picked this out from costume retail website Fun ‘n Folly and the outfit is called “Convict”. It shows a child model in striped prison garb with what I presume are plastic versions of the old ball-and-chain and iron shackles. The model is of course a white boy. Can you imagine otherwise? The ironic point being that white parents can actually afford to let their boys play convict and laugh it off since the chance their child could end up in a real ball-and-chain is abut 800 percent less compared to the prospects for Native, Black or Latina/o American youth; this is especially so if that white child is growing up in a middle-income household. 

This photo can be read as indicative of the assertion of a humorous take born of race and class privilege but it also speaks to the deep roots of the settler nation-state’s legacy of continued structural violence against Native children and youth of color. I started to read a few reports and legal studies about this contemporary phenomenon of the shackling of children. One of the more insightful reports I have read was prepared by clinical professor of law, Kim M. McLaurin, and published in the Journal of Law and Policy (Vol. 38, 2012). McLaurin argues that:
Indiscriminate shackling of adults and juveniles without an individualized determination of need violates the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that appearing in court in “shackles ‘impos[es] physical burdens, pains, and restraints . . . . . . tend[s] to confuse and embarrass’ [adult] defendants ‘mental faculties’ and thereby tend materially to abridge and prejudicially affect [their] constitutional rights.’” Where the defendant is not an adult, but instead is an adolescent, these constitutional rights are much more likely to be negatively impacted. (238)
McLaurin continues by explaining what most medical anthropologists would view as obvious: “The developmental and sociological differences between adults and adolescents have been widely recognized” and the Supreme Court in Roper, Graham, and J.D.B. “carved out categorical exceptions for adolescents and has held that the…practice of indiscriminate shackling is unconstitutional as applied to adults and even more so when applied to children.” (239)

The child shackle has a long history: It has served as a tool used by slavers, slave masters, and boarding school kidnappers alike. It is directly a tool of oppression and forced captivity; it has also been a degrading method for restraining youth subject to the juvenile court system accused, rightly or wrongly, of varied crimes; more recently it has been used as a dehumanizing tool to impose quick-trigger discipline; and it has only in more recent times also become part of a packaged amusement commodity as more privileged circumstances have it. 
North Carolina children in shackles (2012). Krazee Kop
It is also, alas, an enduring symbol: One that speaks volumes about the nature of the United States as a deeply violent settler society that is unlikely to get over its hang-up over race and social control. So it also represents the state of exception – a technique for rendering the body without rights or protections, impinging on the freedom of movement of all those usually colored bodies forcibly held under its iron grip. No society can claim to be civilized as long as it has its children – any children – restrained in shackles.

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