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

Hmm...Hi, you sound intelligent. Your comment here is well put together. Your points seem cogent. The problem with all of it is this: it's all speculative. All of it. None of it, not one bit of your argument holds any water . You are grasping at straws to make excuses for the abominable behavior of this so called Law Enforcement Officer. He brutalized that young girl, he attacked her physically without any type of provocation on the part of the young girl. End of story buddy. You are a special kind of idiot to think that the responsibility for this clear CRIME perpetrated by that monster of a human being somehow rests on the child. He beats a young girl, batters her, throws her across the room..and you call him the victim? You think somehow that this was a 'set up"? Lol..so sad to know that people like you are living and breathing on the planet. That officer should be in jail. He behaved like a pyschopath with that child. He showed absolutely no restraint. You sir, for even suggesting that the fault was the child's, are a despicable and horrible human being. I'm going to guess you are an alt-right nut job racist who feels violence is always justifiable by law enforcement. Please go jump off a cliff.

Anonymous

To the genius who wrote this: "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." GOOD JOB STEREOTYPING WHITES! When a white person says that black people have a greater chance of being a criminal or engaging in gang behavor and are therefore singled out more than other ethnicities for these actions the black community goes wild and then #blacklivesmatter. The most hated person in the world is a white male and though i am not a white male i do agree and wonder if part of it has to do with your adorable theory and the one sided stereotyping minds of certian groups of people. Wake up! No one is special!

Anonymous

Why are teachers so obsessed with cell phones and texting? The teacher could take it away or the cop could take it away if she did not put it away which apparently she did. Or, the school could just prohibit cell phones at school or the teacher could take away the phone until the end of the class or school day as was done historically. For instance, take away a book or item from a student who was not doing his work until after class used to be standard procedure. The teacher is almost as bad as the cop who's reputation no doubt was clear to the faculty and staff. Only the teacher is not as smart as the cop. Bullies are said to go into teaching in great numbers. They and their control freak personalities and stupid obsessions make trouble where there is none. If a kid is so bad, expel them. If a kid is making trouble, tell them you will call the parents if they don't do what you tell them.

Anonymous

You don't work in a school, do you?

Anonymous

The idea of 'a few bad apples' makes no sense! Police world wide have been a problem for decades.

It's time we realise that these people are not the people we see on Barney Miller. They're not even Dragnet!!!

These people are dangerous organisations whose purpose is the opposite of how they conduct themselves.

Let's face it!! There are only a possible handful of good eggs. And if they were REALLY good eggs, they would work together to stop the institutional criminality from badged thugs.

Anonymous

It is ridiculous how school systems can’t handle their own problems and they have to bring in outside officers to help with a student that is being disruptive in class. I think that this makes it so the children of schools think they are in charge rather than the teachers and administration. The other thing that makes this a problem is that there is no mention of what started this between the officer and the child or did the teacher get the student started and from there it escalated when the officer showed up. That’s the unknown, we don’t know what triggered the student and officer to act the way either of them did. When looking into what was said, it was because the girl took out her phone for a brief second that she was then being denied an education by being pulled from a classroom.
When looking at this current issue you need to look the grand scheme of things and that is the grown man beating on a high school girl. This makes it so the students that witnessed it scared as well as the girl herself. You also need to look at the teacher in this classroom when it happened. The teacher went and denied her an education by kicking her out because she took her phone out for a quick second. When looking at the teacher you need to ask yourself was there other phones out in the room and was he just singling her out. You need to look back at the constitution about what the constitution reads, it says that every individual has the rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the country.
I think that the officer was out of line because there is no need to wrestle someone to the ground over a cell phone. I can understand if the child is threatening people and refusing to go to the office then. But if it is over a cell phone I think that is ridiculous, because obviously there were other students with their cell phones out. You need to think how was this getting to the internet it was obviously a cell phone. So this goes to show how you can get one person in trouble but not everyone else within the classroom.

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