Once again, the criminalization of Black children takes the spotlight with reports from Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, of an officer violently assaulting a Black teenage girl. A video surfaced showing Ben Fields, a deputy sheriff, wrapping his arms around the neck around the girl in a classroom, flipping her desk with her in it, and slamming her to the ground. The deputy then proceeds to drag the young woman across the floor, and arrests her.
The incident started when the student reportedly looked at her cellphone and was not participating in class. According to Lt. Curtis Wilson, a Richland County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, the instructor had asked the student “to leave the class several times,” as CNN reported. Subsequently, an administrator came into the classroom to ask the student to leave. When Fields entered the classroom, students were shocked at what ensued.
“I was crying, screaming and crying like a baby. I was in disbelief,” said student Niya Kenny to WLTX-TV. “I know this girl don’t got nobody and I couldn’t believe this was happening. 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. I’m talking about she’s like 5’6″.”
Kenny, who caught the incident on her cellphone, was also arrested.
“I was screaming ‘What the f, what the f is this really happening?’ I was praying out loud for the girl,” said Kenny. “I just couldn’t believe this was happening I was just crying and he said, since you have so much to say you are coming too. I just put my hands behind my back.”
The teen was charged with “disturbing schools”.
“My child, and 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,” says Doris Kenny, Niya’s mother. “But looking at the video, who was really disturbing schools? Was it my daughter or the officer who came in to the classroom and did that to the young girl?”
Tony Robinson, Jr., who also recorded the assault, said he was deeply disturbed.
“I’ve never seen anything so nasty looking, so sick to the point that you know, other students are turning away, don’t know what to do, and are just scared for their lives,” he said.
Robinson said the officer unnecessarily escalated the incident.
“That’s supposed to be somebody that’s going to protect us,” he said. “Not somebody that we need to be scare off, or afraid. That was wrong. There was no justifiable reason for why he did that to that girl.”
Robinson said Fields first told the girl, “you will move, you will move.”
“She said, ‘No, I have not done anything wrong,” Robinson said. “Then he said, ‘I’m going to treat you fairly.’ And she said, ‘I don’t even know who you are.’ And that is where it started right there.”
The sheriff told CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 there was no justification for some of the officer’s actions.
“If she had not disrupted the school and disrupted that class, we would not be standing here today. So it started with her and it ended with my officer,” the sheriff said. “What I’m going to deal with is what my deputy did. There’s no justification for some of his actions. We want to de-escalate situations instead of escalate them. When you have somebody on fire you don’t want to throw gasoline on them. You want to put the fire out.”
Lott also claimed racism was not a factor in the incident because Fields has been “dating an African-American woman for quite some time.”
Other classmates and former students at Spring Valley weighed in on social media:
Just to be clear, before the video, she was sitting quietly at her desk. Did nothing to provoke the officer
— Aaron Johnson (@Aaron___J) October 27, 2015
Yes, Deputy Fields has done this numerous times. But this is the first time I’ve seen it captured on video and shared like this. — ANM.❤️ (@FakeAsian__) October 26, 2015
— St.Cloud (@_marystcloud) October 26, 2015
Fields was suspended without pay. The school board, local authorities, the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice are investigating. Spring Valley High School Principal Jeff Temoney called the incident a “horrific episode” that “hit me in the gut,” and said he would work with the school community to make sure this does not happen again.
Meanwhile, Fields, a weightlifter nicknamed the “Incredible Hulk” by students at Spring Valley High for his aggressive behavior and massive appearance, has a history of alleged misconduct and racial bias, and has been sued twice in federal court. He was first sued in 2007, in an incident stemming from his time as a patrol deputy in 2005. As the New York Daily News reported, Fields slammed Carlos Martin, a Black 36-year old Army veteran on the ground in his parking lot and pepper-sprayed him. Fields was responding to a noise complaint. Martin’s wife at the time, Tashiana Rogers, witnessed the beating and took photos with her cellphone. Fields then told his partner to “get her black ass,” Martin said. The cop then grabbed her phone and deleted the photos.
“I’m watching my wife get beat up in front of me, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” Martin said.
In a civil rights lawsuit filed by the couple, a jury ruled in Fields’ favor.
In a second lawsuit, in which trial begins in January 2016, Fields accused a Black high school student of being a gang member without proof. In 2013, Ashton James Reese was expelled from the high school for “unlawful assembly of gang activity and assault and battery.” Reese was accused of participating in a “gang related” fight in a Walmart parking lot near the Spring Valley High School. Reese’s lawsuit claims that Fields “recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity.”
Meanwhile, the events in Columbia highlight the crisis of policing of the public schools, the criminalization of Black children and racially biased disciplining in our schools. Zero tolerance policies, and the use of the police state to discipline Black children, create a gateway for them to enter prison.
A University of Pennsylvania study found that most of the 1.2 million suspensions of Black children–55 percent– take place in the South. In 132 school districts in the former Confederacy, African-American students were suspended at a rate five times greater than their representation in the population.
Further, throughout the nation, Blacks were 35 percent of the boys suspended and 34 percent of boys expelled from public schools. In the Southern states, they accounted for 47 percent of suspensions and 44 percent of expulsions, higher than any other racial group, and the leader in suspensions in 11 of 13 states. Across the U.S., Black girls account for 45 percent of girls suspended and 42 percent of girls expelled from school. But down South, Black girls were 56 percent of suspensions for girls and 45 percent of expulsions, the highest among all girls. In 10 of 13 states, Black girls were suspended more than any other girls.
Although the school-to-prison pipeline is a big reality for Black boys, there is a threat facing Black girls as well. As NPR reported in February, Columbia University law professor Kimberle Williams Crenshaw and her associates, Priscilla Ocen and Jyoti Nanda, wrote a study called “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.” Their research, which examined data from public schools in Boston and New York, found that girls of color, particularly Black girls, are subject to discipline more frequently and harshly than that of white girls. Further, they are six times more likely to be suspended than their white peers. These racial disparities in punishment for girls are greater than for boys.
“We believe that stereotypes and gender-based punishments may play a role in the over-disciplining of black girls,” Crenshaw said. “The young women we spoke to believed that many of their teachers viewed them negatively as girls who ‘can’t be trusted,’ or girls who are ‘loud’ and ‘rowdy,’ ‘ghetto’ and ‘ignorant.’ Stakeholders also shared their perceptions that the demeanor of black girls was often misinterpreted as defiant or as challenging authority when in fact the girls were simply engaged, curious and expressive.”
With the Charleston massacre and the Confederate flag controversy, the police murder of Walter Scott in North Charleston, the South Carolina flood, and now the assault at Spring Valley High School, it has been a rough year for the Palmetto State.
Now is the time for Black people to stay woke.