Trayvon Martin and Nikola Cruz each carried a telltale backpack, but in neither case was that backpack allowed to tell its tale.
The two young men attended neighboring Florida school districts: Martin the Miami Dade Public Schools and Cruz the Broward County Public Schools.
The districts shared more than a neighborhood. They shared a philosophy, a progressive one all the rage in educational circles. That philosophy arguably cost Martin and 17 students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland their lives.
An August 2017 article in Public Source referred to the philosophy as the “Broward County Solution.”
The solution was a simple one: “Lower arrests by not making arrests.” Troubled by the number of high school students being arrested, and especially troubled by the high percentage of minorities among those arrested, educators “solved” the problem by making fewer arrests, especially among minorities.
The Obama administration actively encouraged this policy. Both Broward County and Miami-Dade were early adopters. In Broward County, for instance, student arrests dropped from more than a thousand in 2011-2012 to less than 400 just four years after the policy was implemented.
As a result of the trial of George Zimmerman for shooting Martin, and the dogged research of the Conservative Treehouse, there is much more information available about the way this policy played out in real life. Predictably, the media have chosen not to share it.
In the final school year of his life, Martin was suspended three times, for drug possession on one occasion and officially for tardiness on another, but likely for fighting.
The third suspension involved Martin’s backpack. Miami-Dade has its own school police department. On this occasion, a school police officer saw Martin in an unauthorized area “hiding and being suspicious.”
There he had written “WTF” on a locker. The next day the officer rifled through Martin’s backpack looking for the offending marker and found something more interesting: 12 pieces of women’s jewelry, a watch and a large flathead screwdriver the officer described as a “burglary tool.”
Martin reportedly told the officer that the jewelry wasn’t his but that “a friend gave it to me.” School police seized the jewelry and stored it.
Martin avoided the criminal justice system for one reason: Miami-Dade, like Broward County, was strategically avoiding the arrest of minority males.
A leak of this information to the Miami Herald led to an Internal Affairs investigation. As the investigation began, the officers realized immediately that they had a problem on their hands.
“Oh, God, oh, my God, oh, God,” one major reportedly said when first looking at Martin’s data.
He could see that Martin had been suspended twice already that school year for offenses that should have gotten him arrested. In each case, however, the case file on Martin was fudged to make the crime less serious than it was.
As one detective told investigators, the arrest statistics coming out of Martin’s school, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School, had been “quite high,” and the detectives “needed to find some way to lower the stats.”
At least a few officers confirmed that Police Chief Charles Hurley was particularly concerned with the arrest rates of black males in the Miami-Dade system.
In a letter obtained by NBC 6 of South Florida, a senior detective wrote, “[Hurley] asked that I reduce the number of arrests I affect of all black juveniles.”
In a purely statistical sense, Miami-Dade policies were working. On Feb. 15, 2012, 11 days before Martin’s death, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools put out a press release boasting of a 60 percent decline in school-based arrests, the largest decline in the state.
“While our work is not completed, we are making tremendous progress in moving toward a pure prevention model,” Hurley told the Tampa Bay Times, “with enforcement as a last resort and an emphasis on education.”
In truth, however, the only “education” a diverted student like Martin was getting was to be sent home – or wherever – on an unmonitored suspension.
As a result, his parents seemed genuinely oblivious of the kind of trouble he had been stumbling into. Nor was there any “prevention.”
With their previous crimes winked at, students felt empowered to commit more. Martin’s final crime was the savage and unprovoked attack on George Zimmerman that cost him his life.
Cruz was similarly spared from the justice system with even more tragic results. According to the Miami Herald, Cruz had been suspended from Stoneman Douglas High for fighting and also for being caught with bullets in his backpack.
In Martin’s case, the jewelry in the backpack was written off, and parents were allowed to believe he had been suspended for writing “WTF” on a locker.
In Cruz’s case, one has to wonder whether his backpack held more than just bullets. Administrators reportedly emailed a warning to teachers against allowing Cruz on the campus with a backpack.
Shielding Cruz from arrest was his name, Nikolas de Jesus Cruz. Whatever his DNA might be, the adopted son of Lynda and Roger Cruz went into the school record books as a Hispanic.
As in Martin’s case, the media have little interest in learning the truth about Cruz’s school records. Once again, they have a narrative and, evidence be damned, they will stick to it.