By now, you have most likely seen the video of the young student from Spring Valley High School being reprimanded by the resource officer- Ben Fields- so I’ll spare your eyes a posting of the video, but here’s a link. Since the video went viral about two days ago, it has sparked some debate over whether Fields’s actions were justified.
In the video, you see clearly how Fields handles the student, but you don’t know much about how he “went from 0-60”, as Professor Marc Lamont Hill put it, or why he is in the classroom to begin with. As it has been reported, the student in the video was being disruptive to the class by having her cell phone out and not turning it into the teacher when he asked her to give it to him so he could continue with the class. Since she refused, the teacher called for the resource officer to remove her from class. Then… well… you’ve seen the video.
So this all brings up numerous- related- questions. First and most obvious, was the officer justified in his use of force? But this also calls into question the purpose of having officers in schools and also the obligations students and teachers have to each other.
I think we can all agree, the student was in the wrong. To have a cell phone out in class at a time when it is not being used was clearly distracting her- and possibly others- from learning (and yes, some teachers allow students to use cell phones as parts of the lesson- it’s almost like we live in 2015). It was clearly distracting enough for the teacher to make a scene of it. The student could have shown deference to both the teacher when he asked her to put it away- as Fox and Friends woefully noted– and Fields when he asked her to step out of the classroom. So that leads to our next question- does her act of disobedience justify Fields’s actions?
According to some, like former detective Harry Houck, yes. Houck told CNN
“If you don’t comply with my wishes … then I can do whatever it takes to get you out of that seat and put handcuffs on you”
According to others, like Victoria Middleton- head of South Carolina’s ACLU- Fields was completely out of line. She says on CNN
“I can’t imagine any justification for treating a child like that in a classroom… Whatever led up to it, whatever rationale may be presented, does not justify the force with which that student was treated.”
So who’s right? Those saying the officer was out of line.
While I agree with Harry that an officer can do what is necessary, it calls into question what is necessary. Is any and all force deemed necessary? I think most people would agree that in this instance, there were numerous other paths the officer could have taken that did not escalate the situation this extremely, such as pulling the desk out to the hall (he clearly has the strength for it). Thus, I refuse to believe disobeying officers gives them full reign to do as they please- there are levels of acceptability and in this case the officer clearly overshot his boundary.
So yes, while the girl was in the wrong and Fields needed to do something, I think it’s clear the something he did here was over the line of acceptability- especially considering he was handling a child in a school. This girl did not deserve the treatment inflicted upon her*.
But this also calls into question why there are officers in schools anyways. According to CNN
“Some 43% of all U.S. public schools — including 63% of middle and 64% of high schools — had such officers on their grounds during the 2013-2014 school year…”
so we know that having officers on school grounds is becoming fairly common. But, again, what are their roles? Many have claimed that in the wake of so many school shootings having officers on school grounds to protect kids would be useful. Some others noted that officers tend to be in some schools due to high levels of gang violence on school grounds. But in either of these explanations, officers are at schools to be first responders to illegal activity. Since when has breaking classroom rules been illegal?
Thus, if those are the reasons officers are in schools, it is safe to say that where they shouldn’t be is handling classroom management. The responsibility to handle discipline in a classroom is solely the job of the teacher- regardless of the community the school is in. Students disrupting classes are not criminals. If teachers are struggling with classroom management, administrators can get them further professional development to better train their teachers to build relationships with students based on mutual respect that can entirely avoid situations like this all together. A relationship like that might have allowed the teacher to know the student was suffering from a tragic loss as opposed to seeing her as nothing more than a disruption of their authority. Unless illegal or dangerous activity is taking place in a classroom, that classroom is no place for an officer of the law. We absolutely cannot keep treating our students- especially our black and latino students– like criminals and then be surprised when they turn to criminal activity due to inadequate schooling**. Our self-fulfilling prophecies are destroying some of our most precious citizens- our students- because of the biases and inadequacies of adults.
I’m of the opinion that Ben Fields should be out of a job in this and any other school district- and to my knowledge he has been fired. This kind of violence against children in a school should be frowned upon entirely- whether from a gunman or an officer- and holding Fields accountable should be the start of that conversation, one that hopefully ends with less police officers in schools and better teaching for all of our nation’s students, especially those who need it most.
That’s Where I Stand
*While I neglected this in the larger piece, there is a troubling concern about our nation’s trend justifying violence against black and brown people, even students in schools. We hear about these instances of violence against black and brown people from police in numerous parts of the country; one would think it was systemic in some way /s.
Honestly ask yourself- Would this have happened to a white student refusing to turn over their phone? For those who say she deserved it- are you holding implicit bias that is coloring your thought pattern to think “she deserved it because she is black and those black kids need to be taught how to act”? If you think your sentiments could be construed as the latter or that is why you think she deserved it, you are a part of the larger problem here of our national devaluing of black and brown people.
If that’s not why you think she deserved it- then what is your logic? I’d love to know. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to discuss further.
**Best known as the school to prison pipeline. See data here.