You remember the video from 2015. A black student ripped from her chair by a Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy – Ben Fields – and flung across the floor like a bag of beans.
The incident caused outrage and a national discussion about the existence of police officers in public schools, which led to a federal investigation. Now that investigation is done and it concluded “the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Fields willfully deprived the Spring Valley High School student of a constitutional right”
The video, graphic and horrendous, wasn’t enough.
Fields is suing the Sheriff department that fired him after the incident. He claims there is an internal affairs memo explaining his actions were within the bounds of department policy.
Let that sink in as you watch this again:
If that is acceptable within the guidelines of police department policy, reasonable people should admit that department policy is jacked and must be changed.
Here’s a kicker to it all: Fields claim his former employer took action on him after the incident because he is white.
“The unlawful conduct particularly implicated herein includes, but is not limited to: intentionally disadvantaging white employees in matters involving black individuals and disparate treatment to white employees with regard to the terms and conditions of their employment, and unequal treatment with regards to decisions to hire and fire,” his suit says.
These dramas, played out in the news and social media, do so little to examine the violation of the black students. In this case it was a student brutalized before her classmates (and then the world through a viral video), and another student, Niya Kenny, who documented the incident with her cellphone and was arrested by Fields for doing so. She never returned to Spring Valley, opting to finish her high school career by getting and GED instead.
Listen to Kenny’s account given to Ed Week:
This is a problem for us
An analysis done by Ed Week found a strong presence of school resource officers accompanied by disproportionate arrests of students.
They say 46% of high schools, 42% of elementary schools, and 18% of elementary schools have an onsite school resource officer. Those officers are sometimes trained for their unique role in public schools, but often they lack special training.
While black students make up 16% of public school students overall, the represent 33% of those arrested at school.
A 2013 Congressional report found schools with SRO’s can “deter students from committing assaults on campus,” but students “might be more likely to be arrested for low level offenses.”
On that problem criminal justice journalist Gary Fields says “A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.”
Examples? Gary Fields has them:
“In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.”
While most parents, educators, and community members agree students need to be safe in school, and making that so may be more difficult as schools educate students increasingly coming from under-resourced communities, there is concern schools are using police officers to take action in routine school discipline matters.
The consequence: more students with criminal records.
An ACLU report called “arrested futures” says schools “have every right to hold disruptive students accountable,” but “criminalizing” through arrests makes students three times more likely to drop out. Students who drop out are eight times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.
That amounts to taking the “to” out of “school-to-prison pipeline.”
“While some school districts use on-site officers to apprehend students who pose a real and immediate threat to the physical safety of those around them, others predominantly use these officers to enforce their code of student conduct. In such districts, officers are encouraged to arrest, in many cases using public order offenses as a justification, students who are unruly, disrespectful, use profanity, or show attitude,” the report says.
In the end this isn’t about Niya Kenny’s viral video of an out-of-control Ben Fields, or even the presence of officers in schools. It’s about the widespread failure to see black students as fully human, as typical youth, and as individuals with unsurpassable worth rather than threatening walking stereotypes that must be punished and made to conform.
That may not be a problem specific just to public education, but public schools, given the charge of nurturing the nation’s children, certainly have a higher calling to do better than this.
For a look at the case against using school resource officers, read “Education Under Arrest,’ a report by the Justice Policy Institute.