At the end of the 2022-2023 school year, when she was 14 years old, a verbal altercation occurred between Amerie and a classmate who was berating her and other classmates. This wasn’t the first time that Amerie, a student in North Carolina, faced harassment and bullying from some of her classmates. Her mother, Regina, had repeatedly contacted the school to bring the bullying to their attention, but no interventions took place.
This time, however, the dispute required a teacher to step in, who was later bumped by a student during the intervention. Amerie was taken to the principal’s office by a school resource office (SRO), where she was questioned by the school administration with the SRO present. They determined Amerie was responsible for the physical altercation, despite the teacher saying she hadn’t been hurt and was unable to confirm who made contact with her. Amerie was told she was being sent home and would be suspended. The officer placed her in handcuffs, which were too tight and hurt her wrists.
In North Carolina, school districts continue to devote millions of dollars to the placement of armed law enforcement officers in schools, despite clear evidence of its negative impact on students and learning environments. Prioritizing funds for law enforcement in schools over counselors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and community-based support is a policy choice that continues to have severe consequences for children in the state, particularly Black students and students with disabilities.
It is well-established that Black students are not generally more likely to misbehave than other students, even after accounting for different socioeconomic backgrounds. Yet school officials punish Black students more frequently than their white peers. Our new report, “The Consequences of Cops in North Carolina Schools,” found that between 2021 and 2023, law enforcement and school staff filed complaints of disorderly conduct against Black students at over five times the rate of their white counterparts. This results in Black students and students with disabilities being over-criminalized, physically and mentally harmed, and funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline every year.
We recently sat down with Amerie and Regina, along with Legal Aid of North Carolina, who is handling her case, to hear about their experience with law enforcement in school and its detrimental impact on Amerie’s academic and personal life. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
ACLU: What happened when you were in the principal’s office with staff and law enforcement?
Amerie: I asked to call my mom multiple times, but they refused. They aggressively told me I was disrespectful and how my mom should have taught me better. It made me very emotional. Once I left the room, I accidentally knocked over a trash can. The officer ran out and told me I was destroying the school’s property and would now be charged. They told me because I had allegedly touched a teacher and was now destroying property, that I would be sent away and get what I deserved. An officer then put me in handcuffs.
ACLU: What happened when you were put in handcuffs? How did it make you feel?
Amerie: I kept asking the officer why I was being put in handcuffs. He did not respond and slammed me down into a seat. He took my phone from me and set it on the counter. He saw my mom calling and watched it ring. The third time it rang, he picked up my cell phone and told my mother that I was in his custody. My mom kept asking why I was under his custody, but he refused to answer. It felt like a “why is this happening to me?” situation. I asked him what I did to deserve this treatment because I had never disrespected them. I have always been respectful and used my manners when it came to staff. I asked him several times, like four or five times, if he would loosen my cuffs. I was telling him that they were cutting off my circulation. And he refused to do that. I was still shedding tears and I was telling him that he didn’t have to take the cuffs off, but to please loosen them because they were hurting me. He laughed in my face and made a comment about how I was in his custody now.
ACLU: Regina, how did you feel when you discovered what your daughter had gone through?
Regina: I was upset. I was overwhelmed. This is not the first time I have brought a situation to them to help me with my daughter. Throughout the year, we have been dealing with bullying, thoughts of suicide, stress, therapy, and medication. This is nothing new to the school; that she is going through something. She has never been aggressive. There is no documentation saying this is what she does. I thought the phone call would be our usual pep talk: “we will get through this.” The teacher explained the situation to me and said she did not feel Amerie was aggressive in any way. She did say that it was a disruption in class.
ACLU: What happened after you left the school?
Amerie: When I first got in the car, I was complaining that my wrists hurt. We left and went to urgent care. They said my cuffs were obviously too tight and cut off my circulation. There were marks and bruises that I never had before.
ACLU: How do you and your classmates feel about having police in schools?
Amerie: I feel like they overplay their part and do more than they are supposed to do. It shocks me how they do their job, because growing up I thought that they were supposed to be by your side and protect you. They normally don’t take the time out of their day to actually visit a kid’s classroom and have conversations. Now I don’t feel safe in this environment. I’m a good kid, but they never took a chance to get to know me. It’s like they’re out to get me.
ACLU: How do you think your education has been impacted since this took place?
Amerie: I feel like it ruined me in general. I don’t feel how I used to feel; being happy to go to school, or just showing up in general. I don’t want to conversate with people anymore, or be around people in general because I’m scared I might run into one of those experiences again.
ACLU: Why do you think it’s important to share this story?
Regina: I never thought that I would have a child be suicidal. As a parent you do everything you can, like keeping them in activities and sports. There are so many kids that Amerie knows that are fighting the same issues she is. I’m willing to do anything to help these kids.
ACLU: Amerie, what do you want to do in the future?
Amerie: I want to teach kids who need extra help. I have had that dream since I was in kindergarten. I feel like I can really relate to them, and sitting one on one with them could bring a lot of joy. In my school, it’s common for these kids to get bullied for how they are. I have always made sure to tell them that anything they want to do, I support them and am proud of them, even if I felt like I was not proud of myself.