A black teenager is facing charges in Prince William County, Virginia, for allegedly stealing a 65-cent milk carton from the school cafeteria. The teen, Ryan Turk, refused to accept a lesser charge in exchange for entering a diversionary program that required him to admit his guilt—which means the case is headed to trial.
It’s an absurd prosecution, according to Turk’s version of events as reported by The Washington Post. Turk didn’t steal anything, he claims—he qualifies for free lunches under a state program. He says he forgot to grab his milk the first time he was in the lunch line, and later went back for it. A school resource officer assumed he was stealing, and approached him.
Turk says he put the carton back, but the officer wanted him to take it to the principal’s office. The officer then grabbed him by the neck, handcuffed him, and charged him with two misdemeanors: disorderly conduct and petit larceny.
The officer—who is also black—tells a slightly different story. He says the teen threw the milk back at him, pushed him, and tried to get away.
Turk’s lawyer thinks racism was involved, according to The Post:
“No one needs to be punished for stealing a 65-cent carton of milk,” said Emmett Robinson, a lawyer who is representing the family and said Ryan’s arrest was related to institutional racism. “This officer treats kids like they’re criminals, and guess what happens — they’re going to become criminals.”
Turk had the option of entering a diversion program that would have scrubbed the charges from his record, but turned it down because it would have meant admitting guilt. Prosecutors are moving forward with the case against him.
That’s a huge waste of the criminal justice system’s time and financial resources—this farce should be abandoned, immediately.
But this case also highlights the absurdity of placing cops in schools and expecting them to handle disciplinary issues that should be left to teachers, counsellors, and principals. If Turk did something wrong—and it’s not at all clear he did—he should be scrubbing blackboards and clapping erasers, not facing charges.