Last Monday’s viral videos of a South Carolina school police officer using force on a black female student violently spread among the growing number of video clips alleging police brutality and aggression.
Two videos from the classroom at Spring Valley High School show Richland County Deputy Ben Fields grabbing the student, pulling her to the ground backwards and yanking her out of the desk. The encounter happened after multiple attempts by the teacher, school guidance counselor and an administrator asking her to leave the classroom for her disruptive, obstinate behavior. In the video, students sit distraught and silent around her as she’s dragged away.
The videos and aftermath quickly prompted an investigation and the officer’s subsequent termination. Other than her defiance to leave the classroom, no remarks were made of the student becoming combative or violent before or during the officer’s entry. She and another student were later arrested for “disturbing school.”
Police are intended to de-escalate out-of-control situations. On one hand, Fields’s removing the student from the classroom did the job of also eliminated the problem. However, through his tactics and excessive use of force, the situation in the classroom escalated.
Undoubtedly, the student should have, in the first place, obeyed the teacher’s request to leave, as well as the authorities’ following orders. And because of her defiance, physical contact to get her out of the classroom, at that point, needed to happen. But when a policeman throws a student to the ground before dragging her away, the line has been crossed.
“She wasn’t a danger at that point; she was just being non-compliant and disrespectful,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said following Fields’s termination. “You try to de-escalate a situation. And when you do have to put your hands on someone, there are other techniques we use.”
This, of course, is the biggest problem with the way the situation was handled and the reasoning for the deputy’s firing. Whether or not this an issue of race or police brutality, excessive force was used on a high school student where other measures would have sufficed.
However, this isn’t the only instance of police excessive force in the classroom. In January 2014, eight Wake County, N.C., students alleged multiple counts of abusive police behavior and other instances of police overreaction.
In this light, it spurs the question of how efficient officers are trained to deal specifically with high school kids. It’s one thing to use physical force so violent on criminals and lawbreakers; it’s quite another to use it on a non-combative child.
Lott also said his officers are trained not to push away or throw a person unless there is imminent danger, of which he said Fields had no rationale to do so in this case.
Another way, perhaps, of handling the situation would be to take the students out in the hallway while dealing with the problem student inside the classroom, so as not to cause any more disruption in the class. But how realistic is that?
Clearly, the student has a problem with authority which began when she outright disobeyed her teacher’s commands. Her offense of texting in class was a violation of school policy, and refusing to hand over her cell phone illustrated her intolerance for rules. This does not negate the cop’s utter wrongdoing, nor does it give leeway for the student to behave the way she did.
The officer was point blank in the wrong for his actions, but so was the student. Fields was trained on how not to approach a subject, even an obstinate one. But the whole situation could have been avoided had the student obeyed the first time around. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be a question whether or not the cop appropriately “diffused” the situation.