The United States has seen a surge of issues regarding unwarranted police force in recent years. The Black Lives Matter movement has illustrated that violent behaviors employed by police forces have reached a point that is far beyond out of control. It’s as if the justice system has become a broken centrifuge. It does not function in a logical manner, rather, it spits its contents (actions of police) out chaotically, without reasoning or merit.
The statistics of police violence paint a vivid picture that is equally bleak and disheartening.
Nearly 1000 people have died at the hands of police officers this year alone. The Black population is without a doubt the most widely targeted demographic. 31.9% of Black Americans who were killed by police were unarmed, which is twice the average of other races.
Police misconduct, especially in regard to Black and minority students, has segued to a dangerously unexpected place: public schools.
Effects of Excessive Police Force on Students
Recently a video depicting an officer using excessive violence toward a student at Spring Valley High School (located in Columbia, South Carolina) made national headlines. The video depicted a white Student Resource Officer, Ben Fields, using extreme blunt force to remove a young female African-American student from her math class.
According to her attorney, the girl (who is being identified as Shakara for legality’s sake) failed to put her phone away quickly enough during class. Shakara was asked to leave class by both her teacher and vice principal for breaking a school wide cell phone usage rule, but refused, believing this to be an unjust punishment.Shakara eventually agreed to put her phone away, but didn’t feel that it was necessary to leave class for something so minor.
Shortly after these happenings, Officer Fields entered the classroom and informed the student that she was under arrest for ‘disturbing school.’ He then used excessive force to remove the teenage student. Grabbing her by the neck area, Fields flipped her desk, violently removed her from her seat to the floor, and abruptly threw her across the room like a ragdoll. The large framed, 300 pound man continued to restrain Shakara on the ground shouting ‘give me your hands.’
This type of scenario would be difficult for any student to go through, but for Shakara, life had already dealt her an unfair hand. After the incident, reports surfaced that the teen had been placed into foster care after the death of her mother. To add to that, she now has injuries to her neck and back due to the abuse of the SRO officer, and currently has a cast on her arm.
This isn’t the first time Ben Fields has terrorized students at Spring Valley High School. Since the incident, many students have come forward saying that he’s earned a reputation for being violent, Christening him with the nickname, ‘’Officer Slam’’. The nickname seems fitting, given that he is infamous for slamming teenage girls and even pregnant women to the ground. Additionally, Fields has been sued in the past multiple times for using excessive force and targeting Black suspects.
After these recent events Officer Fields was allegedly put on work suspension without pay. He’s since been fired from his position. But his termination is an individual occurrence that does not erase the systemic issues at hand. Traumatic and even violent actions are not a new concept for students at Spring Valley and other schools around the country. This type of disturbing abuse is being documented all the time.
It’s ironic that the very thing which fueled these events is actually what brought the situation to the attention of the public eye. If these two students hadn’t used their smartphones to document the blatantly over-the-top actions of Ben Fields, his abuse may never have surfaced. For today’s digital natives, cell phone and social media usage is the most streamlined way to bring about social change. Unfortunately, the students who were brave enough to share the event on social media have seen legal kickback, and are facing fines and disciplinary action.
18 year old Niya Kenny was arrested alongside Shakara for documenting the abuse. She is now speaking out about her arrest, saying:
“I was crying, screaming and crying like a baby. I was in disbelief…I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl. A big man, like 300 pounds of full muscle. I was like ‘no way, no way.’ You can’t do nothing like that to a little girl…she’s like 5’6.
Niya’s mother, Doris Kenny, was shocked by the events that took place, stating:
“I’m not mad at her, she was brave enough to speak out against what was going on and didn’t back down and it resulted in her being arrested…But looking at the video, who was really disturbing schools? Was it my daughter or the officer who came into the classroom and did that to the young girl?”
High school students can be disrespectful and at times defiant, especially those who have gone through recent trauma at home. This is a situation most teachers are prepared to handle, and by no means warrants physical violence. Teachers have many means of disciplining, and counseling students as an alternative to arresting students who misbehave at school.
Arresting teens for non-criminal behavior is beyond counterproductive. Students need an outlet to grow emotionally, socially, and academically, and in order for this to happen restrictions and boundaries must be set that are realistic and fair. Students shouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of being arrested for minor insubordinations in the classroom. Just as treatment for Juvenile cases differs from adult cases, actions of police officers working with children inside schools should be drastically different from how they would treat an insubordinate adult on the job.
Problems arise when Student Resource Officers fail to realize that their job in a public school system is to keep criminals out, protect children and staff, and quell fights, not brutally arrest students clearly going through difficult times. Nothing the girl at Spring Valley High School could have possibly done would ever warrant the treatment seen in these videos. Fortunately a civil rights investigation has been opened in response to Spring Valley High School incident. But this is only a starting point.
In response to this deplorable incident, we, as a society, would benefit from remembering the atrocities that this child endured, and the ways the State has tried to silence those who speak up against injustice. It’s deplorable that the students who spoke up have been threatened with fines and lawsuits, as this can dissuade people from speaking up against such incidents in the future. Silencing of the community is a form of violence in and of itself. When threatening situations arise, students should be urged to pull out their phones and record concrete proof of the wrong-doings around them.
As we’ve seen throughout the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality is an alarming issue that affects the most disenfranchised in our population the most. The widespread use of smartphone and video technology can be used to ‘arm’ the youth of today against an ever growing ruthless police mentality. As we’ve seen over the past few years, sometimes, being armed with a cell phone may be your best line of defense.