By Gracie Bonds Staples, AJC.com Staff Writer
Every time we see a man violate a child my husband looks at me, shakes his head and says, every time, ‘I bet that man doesn't have a son or daughter,’ as if to say he’d never treat his own kid that way or like it if, God forbid, someone else did.
And so like clockwork Jimmy made the same observation a couple of days ago as we watched over and over a South Carolina school resource officer send a female student flying from her desk and across the classroom floor.
You know the one I’m talking about.
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The video – gotta love these telephone cameramen – from Columbia’s Spring Valley High School went viral.
The student, who suffered a fractured arm and cuts to her face, was arrested and charged with disturbing school. The officer, Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields, was suspended then fired, and the rest of us were left taking sides like we always do.
Some defended the officer, pointing out that the video isn’t complete. Others, though, think the video shows more than enough and say there’s no excuse for a law enforcement officer to act that way against a student who hasn’t harmed or threatened anyone.
They believed Fields should be fired.
Marlyn Tillman of Snellville and, as we found out Wednesday, the Richland County sheriff agreed.
“If a parent responded this way to their student they’d be arrested and charged. And rightfully so,” Tillman said. “Nothing that could have occurred in that classroom warranted the response this teen girl received. She was brutally assaulted.”
Tillman is co-founder of the Gwinnett Parent Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline, a member of Dignity in Schools Campaign, a national coalition composed of almost 100 parent, youth, and advocacy organizations focused on ending school “pushout” and creating a positive school climate. She has seen what can happen when school resource officers act as disciplinarians. Students, blacks in particular, get pushed into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Even though reported incidents of theft and violence in schools are at their lowest since 1992, when the National Center for Education Statistics first gathered comprehensive data, statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice indicate that the number of school resource officers increased 38 percent over the past ten years.
If you’re wondering why they’re even in schools in the first place, look at the 1990s. That’s when, in the wake of a string of high-profile school shootings, criminal justice and education officials first sought to expand school safety efforts.
School resource officers were their answer.
I rather doubt they could’ve predicted this kind of assault on students happening but now that it is, something needs to be done. Fields is gone but we can’t keep breathing a sign of relief and moving on until the next assault happens.
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen seems to understand that. She wants to change how police interact with the district’s students.
“This is a horrific recurring theme,” Tillman said.
The officer’s action in the classroom mirror what’s been happening in recent years as African-Americans, including women, have been killed by police across the country. Remember Marlene Pinnock? How about Kelli Wilson?
Fields may very well be a good cop but his propensity to use violence to settle a score is all too clear. He has a history of violence and racial profiling of black students dating back to 2005. In 2007 a couple sued him for excessive force, and there is an ongoing investigation into racial profiling of a student named Ashton James Reese.
“He is a bad cop and should be dealt with appropriately through internal measures as well as the criminal justice system,” Tillman said.
The one student who came to her classmate’s defense, Niya Kenny, said in a television interview Tuesday night that Fields was known for “slamming” students, including a pregnant woman.
“I feel like someone in the class should’ve helped,” she said.
Of course no one did and Fields’ 16-year-old victim has been attacked for taking a swing at the officer.
For decades we’ve heard much about black pathology and high rates of crime and imprisonment.
It’s a huge problem.
But as an African-American mother I often found all the negative talk about black youth disheartening. I still do because I know the vast majority of them are good kids who aren’t that different from their white peer group.
They want to laugh. They want to taste success. They want to be loved.
There is, however, a stark difference in the way they’re perceived. Black children often start off with check marks from statisticians next to a list of risk factors. People automatically think they’re bad, that they should behave as adults. They are not and they won’t.
Every time we start there, though, we end in cold places like that South Carolina classroom and our judgment is void of the understanding and compassion every child deserves.
I wish the student would’ve just complied and given up her phone or her teacher had simply sent her to the office but we all know what happened and it wasn’t pretty.
The school district, despite charges against him, gave Fields an Award of Excellence and maybe he deserved it but don’t its students deserve an officer who protects, not polices them, who doesn’t inflict excessive force on them but is fair in his treatment?
Sure they do.