She must have been so afraid.
Sitting at her desk at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, S.C., feigning calm, warily watching the white man in uniform approach, the black girl with the brown skin must have been terrified.
It could easily have been Eric Casebolt or Daniel Holtzclaw or Timothy Loehmann or Daniel Pantaleo, but this particular monster’s name is Ben Fields.
You’ve seen the video. Fields, 34—a senior deputy with the Richland County, S.C., Sheriff’s Department; a school resource officer, defensive-line football coach and assaulter of black girls—reportedly was called to the student’s classroom after she refused to leave on the teacher’s command. According to classmate Niya Kenney, 18, the girl wasn’t participating in class, while others say she was chewing gum or being “verbally disruptive.”
Other students said she was “new” and just as quiet as she had been since she arrived, not bothering anyone.
None of this has been confirmed; none of it matters.
What does matter is that this girl was terrorized by an officer of the state. She was pulled, choked and thrown on the ground—while still sitting at her desk. She was dragged, forcibly placed in handcuffs and then placed under arrest. As she was assaulted, her classmates sat in eerie, almost petrified, silence. Some can be seen with their heads down, while a black man, identified on social media by students and locals as Spring Valley’s principal, Jeff Temoney, though that has not been confirmed, watches it all play out without saying a word. In fact, he moves backward and lets the devil have his way.
In the coming days, we’ll listen to mainstream pundits dispassionately talk about the necessity (or lack thereof) of police officers in schools, but they won’t honestly discuss the school-to-prison pipeline that targets students of color, even as white students are shooting up their classmates across the country.
Many white feminists will wave their colorblind flags and say, “This is a travesty, period. It has nothing to do with race.” But they won’t talk about the expendability of black women and black women’s flesh; how easy it is for us to be stripped of our dignity and our agency. They won’t talk about the fact that Fields is walking in a long tradition of slave owners and that it never occurred to him that he would be expected to treat what his kind consider property of the state as a human being.
As a child.
Appalled, yet still smug, observers will trot out the number of schools, primarily in the Deep South, that still employ corporal punishment, and they will attempt to frame it as a regional thing, some Southern fried depravity. This is, after all, the state where Bree Newsome had to scale the flagpole on the Statehouse grounds to remove the Confederate flag. This is the state where Dylann Roof entered a church and is charged with gunning down nine black church members after they invited him in to pray.
What more can we expect from this part of the country? That’s what they’ll ask.
What they won’t do is admit that black girls across this nation are six times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white counterparts. According to a 2015 African-American Policy Forum report, “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected” (pdf), in New York City, that number is 10 times more likely; in Boston, it’s 11 times more likely.
They won’t admit that violent and systemic racism is not quarantined to the Deep South.
Enraged allies will talk about Fields’ documented history (pdf) of racial bias and police misconduct (pdf), but not many will just as loudly declare that Fields’ conduct is perfectly aligned with how law enforcement manhandles, and murders, black children—because this student could have died. Not many will wrestle with the fact that Fields is not unique and that this is not evidence of a broken system, but of a racist system, functioning exactly as intended.
What they won’t do is admit that, as Very Smart Brothas’ Damon Young so succinctly noted, had this been a white girl, Fields would never have laid a hand on her.