The story of the Spring Valley High female student in Columbia, South Carolina, who was brutally pulled out of her chair and dragged across the floor by a cop continues to gain traction. While the cop, Ben Fields, has been fired, this was not his first run-in with a student when it comes to both unnecessary force and racial profiling. Some have defended Fields’ action, despite the force and insisted placing some of the blame on the student:
What the student did does not justify the officer’s actions, the sheriff said, but she must take responsibility for her role. “We must not lose sight that this whole incident started by this student,” he said. “She is responsible for initiating this action. Some responsibility falls on her.”
The FBI and US attorney’s office have rightfully opened up a civil rights investigation of the incident.
Team Blackness took an in-depth look at this horrible incident, how America aggressively tries to rationalize violence against black bodies, and why talking back as a child actually helps you to become a more successful adult.
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The treatment of black children is important because it tells them their place in the social order early. This is not accidental, and shows why institutional racism needs to die and die hard.
I am sick and tired of this kind of semi-justification – “She did some little thing wrong and so it’s really her fault.”
To the extent she violated school rules, she gets punished under those rules – suspension, detention (do they still do detention, or do they just jump right to suspensions nowadays?), removal from the class. The violent actions of an adult who should know better in the first place but also should have been trained not to give in to his impulses when there is no real threat have nothing to do with what she did before he came into the room.
This sort of thing is barely distinguishable from the suggestion that no woman should have a drink because that somehow makes her responsible if she gets raped. It just ticks me off. So, no – speeding does not justify an officer shooting you when you don’t put your hands exactly where he wants; getting caught with a joint does not justify being slammed to the ground; not moving along fast enough does not justify being thrown into the back of a police van without a seatbelt; having a perfectly legal toy gun that happens not to have the little orange tip does not justify a cop’s decision to start shooting the second his car stops. No, no, no.
I don’t know what the student did. I gather she was being disobedient and being somewhere between annoying and disruptive. But her behavior was neither violent nor threatening. And when responded to with such a degree of violence, her responsibility is incidental.
And needless to say, what the cop did WAY exceeds the degree of corporal punishment (if any) that the Richland County schools are authorized to mete out. Which should be the benchmark for police behavior in the schools, in the absence of someone being on the verge of seriously harming someone else.
That Sheriff should also lose his job. There is nothing the student did which justifies that beast’s overreaction. Nothing. She’s a young girl who should have obeyed the teacher when he told her to put away her phone but that’s not shocking for a teenager. There was no need to call the cop in the first place. Just suspend her for being insubordinate.
I’m hoping that charges will be filed against the cop and he spends some time in jail for his misconduct. And also that successful lawsuits are filed against the school and police force by the student who was brutalized and by the one who was arrested for standing up to the cop.
@low-tech cyclist: She was apparently texting in class and when the teacher asked her to surrender the phone, she put it away instead. Then she was told to leave the room and stayed in her chair.
These things are hardly disruptive unless the teacher decided to stop teaching and start arguing with the student. Just ignore the kid, keep the lesson on track and wait for the period to end. Write her up, suspend her. Done.
Sheriff is an elected position.
Well, now you’re talking about the teacher and administration.
She had a role in talking back to her teacher. No way she could have reasonably known that would result in her being assulted. The rest is the fault of the school administration.
Just saw this on Pharyngula about the proper way for teachers to handle a student refusing to give up his/her phone.
Another instance of unnecessary force by the same guy:
Real problem stems from police being involved in the first place. There’s no justification for turning a matter of school discipline into a criminal case. Maybe the schools need to have cops around in case of actual violence, but any teacher or administrator who can’t deal with non-criminal misbehavior on their own needs to look into a different line of work.
The kid may have been misbehaving — but given the enormity of what else happened, harping on her misbehavior is cowardly and shameful.
It is also not done by accident.
I wonder whether her teacher was aware of that sad news.
@Roger Moore: Word. The teacher and the school administrator involved seem incompetent.
Its disgraceful that this girl was treated this way–and the rest of the class traumatized and hurt by the actions of the police officer as well. It is all part of the general treatment of African American students as older/more violent than some hypothetical “normal aged” student. A non compliant student is not any kind of threat to order. She was a child in need, hurting, and the teacher and the rest of the staff should have been aware of her situation and the possibility that she might act out or be unable to function in the classroom. This is a failure not merely of one racist and inappropriately placed police officer but of the entire highschool system. If a child is already in trouble and needs extra attention (in this case because of loss and her situation in foster care) she should have received the appropriate therapeutic help –and so should her teacher and the class. This absolutely didn’t have to come down to any kind of conflict. Proper handling of children and adolescents is aimed at resolving conflict before it starts, not escalating to violence.
West of the Cascades
Any word on whether the cop who committed this assault has also been fired by the school as its football coach (I think I read that somewhere) and forbidden to interact with students ever again?
@Patricia Kayden: A different way to “engage” a teen…well done.
Black children are not seen as CHILDREN.
This is repeated over and over.
Yep. There was a whole lot of teacher fail and administration fail long before the officer was even called in.
IMO, it’s that teacher’s and administrator’s behavior that’s really the telling sign of racial bias in this story, not the officer’s action by itself. I seriously doubt that a conflict over a white student’s cell phone disobedience would have escalated that far, or that quickly, and it ain’t because the white student would have acted more maturely.
And, yes, I have told some of my young family members that they sometimes have to be more mature than the adults around them, but that’s because their mother is a textbook narcissist who can’t be trusted to act like an adult, not because I think kids should be responsible for the behavior of adults.
Whether or not the teacher was aware, if the student was texting during class and told to stop and did not the student should have faced some sort of disciplinary action.
Not what happened to her, but at least a visit to the assistant principal’s office to have a talking to and maybe detention, at the worst.
I view it as no different than students passing notes, back when I was in school, except the teacher can’t intercept a text, unlike a note and therefore it’s a bit less risky for a student to text as no “secrets” will be revealed if caught.
IIRC, the statistics for which juvenile offenders charged as adults show that prosecutors are ridiculously biased against black juveniles, as though a 15-year-old black kid has adult understanding and motives while a 15-year-old white kid is still a kid who needs guidance.
A correction from Shaun King – apparently the girl’s mother is actually still alive but they are estranged.
Which makes zero difference to whether or not she deserved to be violently, criminally assaulted by a cop – but I am sure several of the usual suspects will use the incorrect initial reporting to squirt their squid ink all over. And then, after a suitable pause, the digging into her past to prove “she was no angel, you know!” Because for some of our fellow citizens, there is no attack on a black American that can’t be justified somehow.
To me, it’s an example of the kind of “zero tolerance” thinking that police also have right now, where obedience is valued over finding out what the basis of the problem is. I really can’t believe that the only option was to arrest the kid for disobedience. Adult fail, from start to finish.
IANA teacher, but I’m pretty sure that any adult who tries to get into a pissing contest with a teenager is going to lose. Pig-wrestling, and all that.
One of the big points that Ta-Nehisi Coates has made about these situations is that the question of whether the cop acted appropriately is often a diversion. We need to continue on and ask why the police were involved in the first place, and whether the situation should have been handled some better way.
Sure, but my point was something else entirely. Either the teacher knew about her situation or he didn’t. We don’t know. But surely he should have been told, and whether he knew is relevant to any non-criminal investigation of what occurred. Hopefully some good can arise from an honest post mortem.
My kids’ school has a school safety officer – but he would never be involved in a situation like this. He is brought in as a speaker in some classes – drugs, I know he’s relayed to students what the police see when a rape/domestic violence incident appears – sort of a ‘here’s why date rape is treated like a felony’ perspective. But mostly he’s there as a liaison between the school administration and law enforcement, and that’s a useful thing. For example:
1) Student brings a gun to school.
2) A sexual assault is reported.
3) An incident is relayed to the school from law enforcement – a student needs to be notified of something that happened in their household.
In all of these cases, the student body is much better served by having both police and a staff counselor respond. Nobody knows how the first incident will evolve. Schools have a very troubling history of refusing to deal with sexual assault as a crime. For an incident where the outside world is intruding, having a police officer who can get information and take action (bring student home, etc.) is valuable.
What people often fail to understand is that normally student discipline/academic information is not made available to law enforcement, and criminal information is not made available to school officials. So for any incident that would need to cross that line, the best way to handle it is as a joint effort – with both sides bringing the information they know to the situation and documenting it back afterwards. I’ve seen this many times first hand – it is dumb luck, not effective administration that most of these incidents are caught before people are hurt. It’s why situations like VATech happen – you think the school concerned about a student’s behavior would have any way of knowing if a student just bought a gun or was questioned by police in an off-campus incident? But you put a police officer on that team who is an effective partner with administrators and now you have a reasonable chance of catching that.
Clearly things are not working correctly there in SC, no defense of that, but there are some pretty good reasons for having police on public school grounds provided that the boundaries are clearly laid out and respected on both sides.
From the administrator side of things the constant budget-cutting around support services is the main contributor to this. Kids that otherwise have good support structures – community, family, etc. can better fill in when the school resources go missing. Kids that don’t (foster care, etc.) tend to spiral out of hand very quickly. And of course, we have a conservative party that cannot help but promote the destruction of each individual segment of this support community while blaming the other segments for not filling in.
Odds are there was nobody there to help this student other than the teacher.
This business about “she bears some responsibility too” is a sneaky way to smuggle at least two falsehoods into the discussion without a proper examination.
The first falsehood is this: There’s a fixed amount of blame to be distributed here, and if one person’s share grows, it must be that some other person’s share shrinks.
To show that it’s a falsehood, consider the cases of a lone murderer versus a pair who commit a murder. Sentencing guidelines do not call for the resulting jail term to be split in half and divided between the two perpetrators–each bears the entire responsibility for what he did.
The second is this: All the parties involved here are collectively to blame, to varying degrees, for one another’s actions.
This is untrue on its’ face, once you consider it. The student and her attacker are each solely responsible for their own actions. Student is solely responsible for disobeying her teacher and, later, the officer, and should face the proper consequences of her actions. (Might be as severe as a suspension, I should think.) Similarly, the officer is solely responsible for beating that student and ought to face the proper consequences of his actions. Fines, civil judgments, and possibly a short jail term are about what I’d expect if I were to commit simple battery of a minor and be filmed doing so.
I used to be a teacher in an urban Chicago school. Kids disobeyed all the time. Never has to call the cops although we had them in our school. I was wondering what she had done wrong and learned from this thread. Texting and then when caught she put it away? Not grounds for calling security. At all. Hold her after class, tell her not to do it again, then check with her other teachers. If she’s habitual about it, sit her down with a few other teachers and give her the old “you know you’re not supposed to do that in class. Stop.” Works 99% of the time.
I have been trying to make a list in my head of situations where an arrest and maybe grab arms hold on type arrest of a high school kid would be justified…texting and even mouthing off are laughably not on my list.
Student brings a gun or knife to school, threatens to hurt or kill someone credibly (not silly TV think), maybe certain types of caught in the act drug sales? Bomb threats-real ones not show off a science project…not to many others.
No one seems to have any sense of proportion anymore. Smirking is probably reason to shoot someone to some authoritarians. And you also need to know how to ignore “junk” behavior which is used by kids to divert you from really making them do their homework or something.
According to Chris Hayes show last night, the state has a criminnal statute making it a crime to “disrupt” school. Accrding to Joi Reed, the statute is pretty vague as to what constitutes disruption, but the word “obnoxious” is in the statute.
In other words, you can arrest teens for being teens.
Somewhat on topic.
I think Aaron is right when he talks about many black people being frightened and intimidated into agreeing with racially selective authoritarianism and the idea that a transgression committed by a black person should be punished more severely than the same transgression committed by a white person.
sad thing about the whole story is when I read one story about who to the kids was and dozens about the cop. Why is the story always about the white protagonist? That in and of itself says something sad.
According the Raw Story story, the kid just lost her mother. Seems like a reasonable explanation about why she was acting unresponsive.
For some reason, this bit about the trial stood out to me:
I think the DA wanted to use another word. One that starts with a “u.”
But it’s also the thing about the way they’re training cops these days — they’re trained that anyone who isn’t instantly submissive is a threat and needs to be taken down. The guy made a couple of mildly snarky comments to a cop and had to be put in his place with physical force.
pseudonymous in nc
Should it surprise us that the school-to-prison pipeline reaches far back into the school, or that places built on a culture of subjugation find new ways for that culture to express itself, or that white America has an unhealthy streak of fascism about the need to discipline black bodies?
@Patricia Kayden: The department never should have hired that idiot, they ought to have different standards and training, deputies ought to be fired or arrested for lying or violating the rights of citizens, but if the sheriff is fired (it’s an elected office, so, not so easy), who’s going to follow behind him? He said some stupid things all right, but getting rid of that idiot was an astonishingly forward-looking and responsible act, and he also explicitly encouraged citizens to record the police. I can’t imagine that any replacement wouldn’t be worse.
Actually, her mother is alive, but they’re estranged, and the girl is in foster care.
You really have to have a pretty messed-up parent for the authorities to decide your kid should go into foster care rather than live with that parent.
I’m also wondering if the way the story got garbled is that the girl was being raised by her grandmother, who died, and then she was placed in foster care because she couldn’t or wouldn’t live with her mother. I originally heard it as her grandmother and mother had both died, so that may be where the confusion came in (conflating mother and grandmother).
Police officer blaming the victim? Check.
Press repeating his statement as though it is fair and balanced? Check.
White supremacy fully armed and operational? Always.
I wondered about that myself. The first thing I read about this said that her mother died in June, and her grandmother died in January. It could be the case that she lived with her grandmother, and was placed in foster care after she died.
Ella in NM
I can think of so many creative and non-violent options that were available to all the adults in this situation for solving the annoying problem of a bratty teenager in class–if, in fact, she WAS being “bratty” and not simply the victim of a teacher who’s definition of “disruptive” includes rolled eyes or a bitch face as opposed to true disruption.
Here’s one: teacher actually knows his students, knows this girl is having a rough time at home. He talks in a respectful way to student, does not allow her challenge to his authority to erase his ability to see her as a troubled yet hurting adolescent. Attempts to appeal to her cooperative side. If that doesn’t get her back on track, and unless she is literally disrupting other students, not simply ignoring his demand she work on the homework he assigned, he then ignores her, and waits for class to end to discuss what went down. Basically, teacher assumes a “it’s your loss” stance. HE DOES NOT GET INTO A POWER STRUGGLE WITH A CHILD WHO FEELS SHE IS NOT VALUABLE UNLESS SHE’S IN POWER.
Now, if the kid is REALLY disrupting class so the above can’t take place–which no one indicates was happening in this situation–
here’s another: cop gets called by teacher. Cop tells student that the game is over, time to go to the office, and kid still refuses. Cop calls for backup. School administrator and three officers show up, and give final offer to get up and walk to office unassisted. Kid refuses so all four of the officers calmly lift the student- still sitting in her chair-desk and carry it out of the room. Meanwhile, her parent/guardian is called to come to school to pick her up out in the hallway. She gets suspended and goes home until social worker/counselors can determine what’s up with her. They Do NOT GET INTO A POWER STRUGGLE WITH A CHILD WHO FEELS SHE IS NOT VALUABLE UNLESS SHE’S IN POWER.
Or how bout: Teacher calls for backup, whether by an administrator or the resource cop or both. Explains situation. All other students take their stuff and go to another class while backup stays behind to babysit until child’s parent/guardian arrives. She gets suspended and goes home. They DO NOT GET INTO A POWER STRUGGLE WITH A CHILD WHO FEELS SHE IS NOT VALUABLE UNLESS SHE’S IN POWER.
In a community that is pro-kid, and believes that misbehaving kids are hurting kids, things go down much differently than they did in this community. I’ve seen it with my own teens and their peers who tested authority in minor, predictable ways teenagers will.
Ella in NM
@? Martin: I get that they have limited resources but every single teacher and administrator in that school has education, training and experience in development and communication with students in order to even be an educational professional. Just peruse the requirements for degrees in these areas. It’s talked about ad nauseam in education coursework.
Every person who works in a school has a responsibility to have a higher level of ability to talk to and manage kids. We must hold them to a higher standard, period.
I’m not sure it’s fair to blame the teacher or administration. They had a process set up. First if the teacher can’t get a student to comply with a legitimate request, they inform an administrator, who the attempts to reconcile the conflict, if that fails the administrator gets the cop involved. That seems to be what happened, and I imagine both the teacher, and administrator were probably as freaked out as everyone else that this cop freaked out.
And yes, she should get some blame for acting like a punk, but that’s not the same as “sharing the blame” that falls completely on that cop. It would be like walking in a bad neighborhood alone after dark then getting mugged. You realize what you did wasn’t the best decision, but the mugger is to blame for the mugging.
Right, but what we’re saying is that a student texting on her cell phone shouldn’t have to be a “call the cops and have her arrested” moment. That’s the kind of thing a teacher worth his/her salt should be able to handle him/herself.
I don’t want to insult any teachers here, but if the only way you can discipline a kid who texts too much is to call a cop to have her arrested, you have failed as a teacher.
Is non-violent intervention not taught in teachers’ college? Surely a police officer has had training in NVI techniques. This entire tragic episode stinks.
Big Picture Pathologist
Paul in KY
@Roger Moore: Not much of a teacher if you can’t talk someone out of their chair & down to the principal’s office.
Paul in KY
@Mnemosyne (iPhone): Agreed!