Is This What School Safety Looks Like? Because It's Terrifying.

Yesterday, a video surfaced of a young female African-American student at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina being put in a headlock and then slammed to the ground while sitting in her desk by a white police officer. In one quick motion, the officer proceeds to throw her across the room like a ragdoll and then handcuff her. The whimpering of the student can be heard as the officer demands, “Give me your hands. Give me your hands.” It’s awful to watch, and has understandably generated outrage from across the country.

Thanks to Black Lives Matter and other activists, we have a lens through which to understand what’s happening here: This is another disturbing example of the over-policing and brutality regularly directed at people of color by law enforcement. Calling the incident an example of “excessive force” doesn’t do justice to the casual violence on display, in a school of all places.

And yet this is how young people — and young people of color especially — are being treated in public schools across the country. In many ways, school policing mirrors policing of communities of color in general: There is a racialized presumption of guilt and a widespread use of harsh, sometimes violent, responses to minor offenses in the name of “safety.”

As police become a regular fixture in schools, “school discipline” becomes more and more their beat. What reportedly happened in that Spring Valley classroom is a prime example of the consequences of having a routine police presence in schools. When a student refused to hand over her cell phone or leave the classroom, officer Ben Fields was called in. Rather than calmly resolving what appeared to be a run-of-the-mill battle of wills, he chose to escalate the situation. What resulted was a shocking act of brutality. (This, however, isn’t the first incident where Fields has been accused of being unnecessarily violent with a person of color.)

The force itself is certainly notable, but what happened after is also noteworthy. Reports have been released indicating that the student was arrested for the crime of “disturbing schools.” The vague offense is a misdemeanor in South Carolina that literally makes it illegal to “disturb in any way [] the students or teachers of any school” or to “act in an obnoxious manner” at school. In other words, it makes anything from throwing a soda can to leaving the classroom without permission a crime. (And yes, we’ve heard of students being arrested for those things.)

While we lack good data on policing in the school district (Richland 2) where Spring Valley High sits – the ACLU of South Carolina just sent a FOIA request to address that problem – we know that Richland County has the third highest number of family court referrals for “disturbing schools” in the state.

We also know from federal data — if this video weren’t evidence enough — that the district takes a harsh and discriminatory approach to student discipline. Seventeen percent of all secondary students are suspended out of school. Nearly one in four Black secondary students is suspended. And close to one in three Black secondary students with a disability is suspended. These numbers are unacceptably high, but unfortunately not unusual.

In reaction to these shocking events, the ACLU is demanding an end to arrests for minor misbehaviors in school, including a moratorium on arrests for the offense of “disturbing schools.” Richland County Sherriff Leon Lott and Richland 2 Superintendent Debbie Hamm must immediately develop written guidelines that return discipline to the hands of educators.

Fully cooperating with a Department of Justice investigation is an important step, but these policy changes can and should be made now.

Schools are places where young people should feel safe and welcomed. My son is white, so I have the privilege of imagining him in a classroom where he’s nurtured and treated with dignity rather than thrown to the ground by the people allegedly hired to keep him safe. When I imagine the school doors closing behind him, I feel calm, not afraid.  It’s outrageous that every parent can’t do the same.

If this is what a safe school looks like, I’ll take the dangerous one.

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Anonymous

This went on for a long time. There were complaints long before the video. No action was taken until the public saw it. It says a lot about society, disinterested teachers and school leaders. They let it go on until it could not be hidden.

Anonymous

We need to thanks the schools who allows police officers treat students as criminals.

Anonymous

It is a shame how uncivilized society is today. Why was the Cop called into the classroom in the first place? Why didn't the kid just get up right away and go to the principal's with the cop? Do you really think the white cop just decided to randomly go into this classroom at want to beat up a black kid (oh, I'm sorry an African American, not an American of African decent) for no reason at all? Was he supposed to let the kid continue to do whatever he/she wants to do? Oh that's right: kids are in charge. The teachers and especially the police certainly can't reprimand or discipline kids these days. Why is the ACLU, the NAACP, and of course the liberal media always so quick to blame All white's as bigot's? Is there no racism in the black community? Apparently not. The ACLU, the liberal media, and certainly the NAACP needs to blaming OTHER PEOPLE as being the only racists. Not All white cops are bad people.

Anonymous

We don't know what she did to bring on this confrontation. She may be a total jerk with a bad future. The problem is in how he handled removing her from the room. Why could he not grab her by the scruff of her collar or take her by the arm and pull her out? If he has the strength to wipe the floor with her he could do that or put her in an arm-lock. It is doubtful he was in fear of his life.

Anonymous

The main problem is a grown man beat up a little girl. If this had been his wife or daughter he would be in jail. The fact that he thought it was ok was partial because of her skin color. He is a trained professional and should no how to handle students or anyone no threatening violence. But apparently it's ok. So the next time you use your phone when your not supposed to like in the line at the post office imagine a guy twice your size attacking you. This would also be less likely to happen if she were white because white teens never are disrespectful. (Sarcasm)

Anon99

Are you serious? According to the various new sources, the girl did briefly take her phone out in class but quickly put it away. Apparently, putting the offending phone away wasn't enough for her math teacher. He decided that she should leave. In other words, his punishment for her compliance was to deny her an education! She refused to comply with his unjust request. He asked her again to leave and she remained seated. He contacted the school administrator for help. She refused to budge. Cop with something to prove was summoned to deal with defiant teenage girl. Instead of remaining calm and acting like an adult, he decided to prove his manly strength by beating up the poor girl. To add insult to injury, he arrests her for the asinine infraction of 'disturbing schools,' as if his behavior wasn't disturbing and terrifying to the students who witnessed it. All of the students who spoke to the media clearly stated that the cop's behavior was terrifying, not their classmate's, whom they stated was usually quiet and not a troublemaker. The cop, as we know now, was fired. The math teacher should be fired, too, in my opinion.
I feel really bad for the girl. Her situation is heartbreaking. She recently lost her mom and is now an orphan in foster care. If her inept teacher had done his job, he would have placed her atypical behavior in context. She was grieving over the loss of her mother AND coping with being in the foster care system. I can only imagine the stress she is under. And then she is physically attacked (while in school!) by an armed man and placed under arrest! O M G. She deserves compassion, not vilification.

Anonymous

No one said all white cops are bad. No one said *all cops* are bad. The cops who do bad things are bad, and they are generally the ones who get noticed, because they tend to be racist, and act aggressively. Maybe they act that way with all races, but it's when they treat black people, or other minorities poorly, they get more notice because it's such a prevalent behavior.

There are racist people in all ethnic backgrounds, but white people have been perpetrating these crimes for longer and in a wider arc than any other race. So that makes the white ethnicity the ones to be more likely to be racist in this case. I've experienced racism from a number of ethnic backgrounds, but that doesn't mean white people have been any less racist over time.

It doesn't matter if the female in that video was refusing to get up or go, she did not deserve to be slammed on her head in a desk. That is the point. The cop was TOO aggressive and he's been noted to be too aggressive by a fair number of people. No, the *teacher* wasn't supposed to just let the student misbehave, he could have used tactics like, problem solving, conflict resolution. So could the principle, and the cop most definitely should have, and didn't. He went for the total aggressive stance which makes people dig in in their defiance. To expect a teenager to behave like an adult is ridiculous. They are charged with hormones and their emotions are a lot harder to mediate. Hell, some adults can't even act like adults. We need to stop treating these kids like adults and criminals; they can't be expected to be both at their age and be successful. Your arguments are deflecting the issue, not addressing it.

Anonymous

How come the article states that a White police officer slams a Black student? Instead of just saying police officer slams student? But when a Black person commits a crime, we can't say Black criminal commits crime?

Anonymous

Nicole:

Let's review. The COP (Constable On Patrol) was summoned to deal with a disruptive Student. The disruption was 'the class was interrupted by the Teacher who wouldn't teach' because the Student would not give up a cell phone. Could the Teacher continue to teach? This was the Teacher's decision not to teach until the 'problem' (cell phone relinquished) was resolved.

This disaster was videoed by other Students with cell phones.

QUESTIONS:

- Did the Teacher know there were more cell phones in the room?

- Could it be that this was staged to cause the COP to be vilified on national media?

- Why wasn't there adequate training or backup provided to the COP due to the delicacy of these confrontation?

The above questions suggest that there may be a need for more people to be separated from their daily routines (expelled or fired); such as:

1 - The two (or more) Students who videoed this event on their cell phones. Are cell phones allowed?
2 - The Supervisor of the COP who didn't provide adequate training or backup to the COP.
3 - The Teacher who could not control the class; as it may be determined that this was a 'setup' to capture the attention of the media (and the ACLU). If it was, it worked!

Do you (ACLU) feel like you may be being 'played' by this event? Why isn't the ACLU backing the one person who may really be having his American Civil Liberties violated?

If you are speaking for the ACLU, you may have lost your focus of your mission statement (below) about who is '. . . every person. . . . "

"to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States"

HawkAtreides

The entirety of your post rests on the unreasonable assumption that somehow there is any set of non-violent actions that justifies a sheriff's deputy literally throwing a teenager across a classroom.

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