Judicial corporal punishment has been outlawed in the US for quite some time, although that fact has yet to surface in the matter of four Rhode Island police officers who forced five teen vandals to do pushups in the street rather than arresting them.
The incident was recorded by a woman who witnessed the event and the video was later broadcast on local news stations, which subsequently led to an investigation of the four officers. Now, a debate on whether the officers’ actions were correct is building in the state and across the nation.
North Providence Police Chief Paul Martellini and Mayor Charles Lombardi may have their own disagreement over the incident. Lombardi has publicly denounced the practice of “street punishment” as “stupid” while Martinelli has chosen to reserve judgment until the investigation is complete.
At least one of the parents of the vandals has come out in support of the officers’ actions in attempting to teach the vandals a lesson, although she still said they were wrong in their decision. This stance very accurately frames the national mindset when it comes to the benefits of corporal punishment, whether in the home, in schools or as part of the criminal justice system.
Many experts argue there is no direct link between corporal punishment and long-term benefit in the behavior of children, although the majority of American parents defend the practice. The argument is moot, however, when it comes to law enforcement officials doling out the punishment because the law no longer allows it.
Even if it did, the vandals were not afforded a trial and a defense, which means their rights were violated by the officers – and that is the final fact in the case. While people can debate the moral merit of their actions, there is no debate that the teens’ rights were violated by civil servants charged with protecting those rights.