What happened at Spring Valley High School this week is, in one word: horrific. But for so many young black people across the country, the situation is also unsurprising.
In the clip that went viral online on Monday, Student Resources Officer Ben Fields is seen violently flinging a female student out of her desk, dragging her to the front of the classroom, and forcefully restraining her as he puts her in handcuffs. The scene is strikingly similar to the June incident in McKinney, TX, where an officer manhandled a teenaged girl at a pool party and threw her around like a rag doll. It's a scene that parallels so many other instances of brutality across the nation.
The clip is disturbing because of the officer's violent and excessive force, but the real horror lies in the reality the scenario exposes about being a black child in America: you are never actually seen as a child.
When black children are old enough to go to school, we are socialized to believe that we are criminals. School buildings are outfitted with metal detectors, and halls are teeming with police officers who, while there to protect, also instill a distinct, subtle fear and self-loathing.
The other students in the video remain silent and still as they watch the officer throw their classmate to the ground. But their perceived calmness is more likely fear, and also a tactic of survival -- speaking up or stepping in could result in their own brutalization (one student who stood up for the girl was also arrested for "disturbing school," according to WLTX).
Statistically, black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students, in a school-to-prison pipeline in which policies like "zero tolerance" and the use of law enforcement for school discipline create an atmosphere where nearly all classroom incidents from harmless to severe are treated with the same level of criminalization.
As writer and educator Alexander Orphanides wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post:
Teachers subjectively interpret misbehavior based on racial stereotypes and are more likely to "label Black students as troublemakers." ...These stereotypes endanger Black children in many settings, be it the classroom where they encounter harsh discipline, the judicial system where they are cruelly and unusually sentenced, as they play with toy guns in public parks, or as they attend suburban pool parties where they are aggressively mistreated by officers of the law and civilians alike.
In video below, CNN host Don Lemon suggests that we "need to know more before passing judgement" on officer Ben Fields. But he is wrong. There is nothing more we need to know.
Various reports say that the student mouthed off to her teacher, was disrespectful, and ignored repeated instructions to go to the principle's office for discipline. One student in the class, Aaron Johnson, alleges that the whole ordeal began because the student was chewing gum. There hasn't been any indication that the student was acting violently.
It does not matter if the student was being disrespectful, chewing gum, or acting out. No matter what happened, the officer's use of excessive force was not justified. The student in the video is a minor, she is a child. She may have been disrespectful, but she did not fight back. She is physically smaller than officer Fields.
She was in no way a threat to him.
So often, the justification for this kind of treatment of black children lies in the blatant dehumanization of black children. This dehumanization begins with the stereotypes of black students as trouble makers and thugs, as though teenagers acting out or being disrespectful in the classroom is exclusive only to black children. Black children, simply through the act of existing, are somehow more dangerous, more unpredictable, more worthy of violence.
If the student in the video was a white girl, would anyone suggest that we "need to know more" before passing judgment? Would people ask what the student did to receive such treatment? Would the student be described as a "woman" in The New York Times instead of as a girl or a child?
According to The Daily News, officer Fields has received complaints and faced lawsuits for using excessive force in the past. And yet, given his record, he was able to carry out the same disturbing and unnecessary violence in the classroom again. While Fields is now under investigation, his seemingly unchecked history, and his actions in that class, are only further reminders to young black people that, unless someone is filming it, their brutalization will be ignored, and that their lives do not matter.
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