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Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2003/ 17 Mar-Cheshvan 5764

Kathleen Parker

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'Just say no' to gun-wielding cops in school

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Watching the news over the weekend, I was ecstatic to see videos of our special-ops men rounding up Saddam and the last of his hellhounds. Finally.

There they were, lined up against the wall, handcuffed and staring into the pitiless barrels of revolvers and the steely gazes of 14 of America's toughest hombres.

Break out the Dom Perignon!

No, wait. Oh, you mean those weren't Baghdad Baathists? And those weren't our special-ops guys?

Indeed, the incredible film - by now familiar to most - captured students on their way to class and Goose Creek police officers, who, along with police dogs, conducted a "drug sweep" at Stratford High School in Goose Creek, S.C., a suburb of Charleston.

Well at least, I permitted myself to assume, there's an armed and dangerous heroin-tipped dart blower in the supine crowd. But no, police found nothing. Not even a joint, though police reported that their dogs found 12 book bags worthy of sustained sniffing.

"Earthy bouquet," barked Hans. "Zesty with a hint of rosemary," quipped Fritz with characteristic irony.

But no "drogas." No marijuana. No cucaracha.

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The man behind the curtain in this bad trip to the dark side of Oz was Principal George McCrackin, who called police when he divined from watching students via surveillance cameras that something might be, you know, "going down."

Police already had been reviewing surveillance tapes following a student tip about drugs on campus and were confident of drug activity, according to Lt. Dave Aarons of the Goose Creek Police Department. Students were "posing as lookouts and concealing themselves from the cameras."

Perhaps, though I vaguely seem to recall in high school being the sort of excellent student and model citizen who might have mocked a camera, had there been one, in order to give 007-McCrackin something to sweat about.

Drugs and money indeed may have been exchanged on the school's campus, which happens far too often for any parents' peace of mind, but kids have been known to play "let's mess with the grownups."

Since the raid last week, McCrackin has been shown on national news reports seated at a four-panel video screen in his office where he keeps an eye on his nefarious herd. Apparently, he saw something that looked to him like an imminent threat of a drug transaction and placed a call to gulag headquarters. I mean the police department.

Whereupon 14 officers responded with notable enthusiasm. They "assumed strategic positions," and "did unholster in a down-ready position," said Aarons.

Thankfully, no one was shot or hurt, but then neither were any drugs confiscated. Instead, the entire exercise was a lesson in everything we hope not to teach our children, that:

  • School officials are not to be trusted;

  • Police are not to be trusted;

  • Grownups are dangerous and weird.

That's what I heard as I watched reruns with two college freshmen, and that's what I would take away from the experience were I a Stratford student.

Disturbingly, some parents weren't especially upset, much less appropriately outraged, that their children were treated like insolent Kurds during one of Saddam Hussein's mood swings.

Some were angry, but others interviewed said they trusted officials to do what was necessary. An Internet survey by a San Antonio, Texas, TV station found that 33 percent of those responding thought the action was appropriate and "it sends a strong message to students."

Yes, one could say that. Saddam's Fedayeen sent strong messages to outlaws, too. Would that the urge to draw parallels between a totalitarian state and a South Carolina school were impossible to justify.

I don't mean to minimize the danger of drugs in our culture, and I don't blame school officials for taking the problem seriously. McCrackin surely had a legitimate duty to try to stop illicit commerce on his watch.

But scaring young people to death, pointing pistols in their faces, handcuffing them for failing to respond quickly enough defines the phrase "over the top." McCrackin says he didn't know police would draw their guns - and police were just doing their jobs - so who's to blame? Surely someone.

What happened at Stratford is inexcusable, unacceptable and un-American.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said the raid was illegal, and the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division is investigating. In the meantime, McCrackin might consider taking some R&R, and the Goose Creek Police Department might goose-step on over to Tikrit. I hear our special-ops guys could use some backup.

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