Help Stop the Use of Pepper Spray on Students in Birmingham, Ala., Schools

Every single day, when students walk into school in Birmingham, Ala., they face the threat of being sprayed with pepper spray. In this school system, pepper spray is routinely used as punishment by police officers stationed in schools.

That’s right. Birmingham city police officers spray pepper spray into the eyes and mouths of children as punishment for engaging in normal adolescent misbehavior – like crying, cursing, hair pulling and fighting.

This practice is wrong and it must be stopped.

While the physical effects of this punishment are horrific – injury to the eyes, temporary loss of vision, burning and discoloration of the skin, loss of breath and, in some cases, respiratory arrest – the impact goes far beyond that. Students who have been brutalized in this way end up distrusting authority figures and being pushed out of school, effectively cutting their education short.

A year ago, we filed a lawsuit to put a stop to this practice. All our suit asks is that the Birmingham Police Department stop the abusive use of pepper spray against children, provide its officers with adequate and comprehensive training – especially when they deal with youths – and select well-qualified officers to work in Birmingham schools.

We had hoped the school board would work with us to protect students and the police department would agree to properly train officers who are stationed in the schools. Instead, the Birmingham school board argued that it does not have a duty to protect these students from the use of pepper spray. 

While we have found that there have been more than 150 cases of students being sprayed since 2004 in the school system, we have not learned of a single other school system where police routinely use mace on schoolchildren in the way that Birmingham officers do.

For the past year, the children in this case have done what so many adults have not been willing to do. They’ve had the courage to stand up and demand their right to attend school without fear of being sprayed – when no one else would stand up for them.

We can’t accept the brutalization of our children and expect them to grow into citizens who will lead our communities. The children of Birmingham will not and cannot be ignored if we all stand up with them. Show the Birmingham City Council and Mayor William Bell that parents oppose the unnecessary use of force in schools. Please sign this petition and help us put an end to this dangerous policy today.