Black people across the nation have been screaming, “Black Lives Matter” for a over a year now, but the message seems to go unheeded. Law enforcement is still cracking the heads of defenseless Black people, and too many members of the dominant culture (and in the Black community) feel as though these incidents of police brutality have nothing to do with race. The latest example of a police officer doing too much comes out of Spring Valley High School in South Carolina. Social media is abuzz yet again, with a student-shot video of school resource officer Ben Fields dragging a student engaged in peaceful protest out of her desk, slamming her to the ground and handcuffing her. Gawker gives the account of a student in the classroom:
The girl was asked by the teacher Mr. Long to leave the classroom and go to the discipline office, she ignored him, then an administrator came in and asked her if he needed to get the resource officer. She ignored him and then the officer came in. He asked if she was gonna go or if he had to make her go. Then he grabbed her and pulled her out of her desk and she fell on the ground with the desk still on her. He then threw her across the room and then got on top of her. Another student tried to stand up for her, which also led to her arrest.
There are sure to be protests and demonstrations to follow this (a crowdfunding campaign for Fields is inevitable, judging from past events). The point of most outrage is that this female student was really brutalized by a school resource officer. The way it appears, she’s lucky not to have sustained serious injuries the way she was manhandled in that desk. Folks are also focusing on the fact that the other children in the classroom have been traumatized, enduring psychological abuse having to witness such a thing. However, there are other equally important factors to consider.
The students reacted like what they were seeing in normal. That’s because it is normal for them. Anonymous accounts from Spring Valley students via Twitter display this. Twitter user @HollaBlackGirl put the call out for students to confidentially share their experiences with Fields, who also serves as the defensive line coach for the school’s football team. One of the students wrote, “Usually if we record a fight the school forces us to delete it and we can get suspended for invasion of privacy i think which is partly why i don’t want my name attached but we rarely have them cause of fields (cop in video) due to his brutal reputation.”
Another student wrote, “Last yr he dislocated a students arm by slamming him and broke the floor tile wit his body, for fighting. The year before that he put his knee in the back of a white kid and pulled his arms up like he was about to rip them off.”
Even more horrifyingly, a student said, “there are rumors that he slammed a pregnant girl.”
Activist and journalist Shaun King found that a lawsuit alleging Fields unfairly targets Black students and parents was filed in 2014.
There’s also another level to this. The acts of Ben Fields add to the already alarming problem of discipline against Black girls in schools. In February, the Washington Post reported on this issue, based on the African American Policy Forum’s study entitled, “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected“:
According to their research, black girls are suspended six times more than their white peers (while black boys are only suspended three times more than white males), and disproportionately suffer under excessive disciplinary measures in schools.
The rates of expulsions between Black girls and White girls are even more staggering.
“Unlocking Opportunity For African American Girls: A Call To A Call To Action For Educational Equity,” a joint report by the The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and National Women’s Law Center, found:
The incident at Spring Valley High was horrible for the violence and abuse the young girl experienced and her pupils observed, however, maybe it’s time to reform discipline in school. Yes, if the student was told to leave class, she should have, but she didn’t have to be brutalized the way she was. She was practicing passive non-violence. There’s got to be a more acceptable standard for police conduct. However, it is clear that students at Spring Valley and beyond are attending school in a police state. The non-reaction by the students in the classroom imply that they are in a constant state of fear of Ben Fields and his irrational reaction. He is clearly unequipped to work with children.
School officials also need to check themselves on the discipline of Black girls, so that they can actually receive an education. Instead of being so quick to punish, take the time to get to the root of the problem.