The video is terrifying. My heart was in my throat as I watched this video of sheriff's deputy Ben Fields of Richland County, S. C. throwing a young African American girl over backwards, slamming her to the floor.
For God's sake, literally for the sake of God and God's creation of all human beings as in the image of God, stop treating the young, female African American body like it is not human, not worthy of respect.
Think of the potential for life-threatening injury as that chair with a young girl in it is flipped over, and then she is dragged across the floor of the classroom. It made me literally sick with fear as a parent and grandparent to watch this video several times.
What "crime" would justify this?
Apparently, the 'big offense' that this young African American girl committed to get her body slammed, flipped over and dragged by the white police officer was according to a classmate peeking at her cellphone during class. Per The Guardian (October 27, 2015), when the teacher tried to take the phone away, the student refused to hand it over, and when a school administrator told her to leave the class, she stayed at her desk, which is when Fields was summoned.
Peeking at her cell phone and then refusing to hand it over and then refusing to get up? That's her so-called offense?
This current video is so reminiscent of another Black girl's body treated as though it were just an object to be flung about as happened earlier this year at a pool party in McKinney, Texas. The officer in McKinney was placed on administrative leave; the officer in Richland County is also now on administrative leave.
But what do these police officers learn from seeing their actions on video and then being put on leave? Without strong efforts to confront the underlying contempt for young African American bodies, female and male, and specific training to change that, they seem to be internalizing more contempt not less. The police learning seems to be to close ranks, adopt a defensive posture and blame the victims.
FBI Director James Comey had to concede earlier this week that there was little evidence to support his theory that a recent increase in crime was caused by heightened scrutiny of the police. But his remarks addressing a police chiefs' conference in Chicago that he "sensed" that was a cause of an increase in crime in some cities were very revealing, not of the actual situation, but of his attitude.
Let us be very clear: blaming the victims never works to transform injustice into justice, it never works to transform violence into nonviolence.
And what do the victims and the witnesses of such brutal treatment by police of young Black women's bodies learn? Watch the faces of other students in the classroom. Watch as they try to turn away and make themselves unobtrusive, make themselves invisible so they won't become the next target. Watch the young African American child (and yes, he is still a child!) in the red shirt as he tries not to look, as he puts his head lower but cannot help but see.
What did these children learn in the classroom that day? They learned the lesson of white supremacy in America, that you as a young African American are not worthy of being treated with respect. Your body and even your life is fair game.
I said as a parent and grandparent I was terrified, but let me tell you that as a pastor and seminary teacher I am outraged and I am determined to cast the light of the Christian Gospel on this behavior and call it to account.
As religious leaders we have to confront the structural racism that is at the root of so many of these incidents of the gross and inappropriate use of force against young African American bodies. "Do to others what you would have them do to you," taught Jesus. That's the sum of the "whole law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)
It is also the sum and substance of being a decent human being.
Police officers must be retrained not only in techniques of nonviolent communication and conflict mediation, but also in equal respect for and treatment of African Americans in body, mind and spirit.
This is a moral and a civil imperative.