By now, the horrific video of a teenage girl being slammed to the floor (while still in her chair) and literally dragged across the floor of the classroom by a sheriff’s deputy has been played countless times. It cements into the minds of watchers the harsh reality that violence and racism in America will never end.
What happened at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina should never have happened. No less, while a black principal stands idly by and says and does nothing to minimize the assault. Students, with the exception of Niya Kenny (arrested for allegedly disrupting the class), sat frozen, afraid they might meet a similar fate. Kenny said she was admonished for crying and praying for the girl.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department said the incident was not racially motivated. However the dynamics are eerily familiar. White Student Resource Officer and Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields, slams a black unarmed teenager (name not released) to the ground when she does not obey his order to leave. He then throws her across the room.
A fellow officer offered the defense that Fields cannot be racist because he is dating a black woman. Black girlfriend or not, we’ve seen this movie before. A white cop “loses it” when an unarmed, nonviolent black civilian does not cooperate. He becomes frustrated and decides to teach the person a lesson by beating, even shooting them.
In July, we saw another case of a white officer slamming a tiny, bikini-clad 15 year-old black girl to the ground in Texas, literally handling her like a rag doll. Her offense? Talking back.
To be fair, police have very tough job. Witnesses say the girl refused to put her cell phone away when asked, used profane language and disrupted the class. She was wrong for that. But was she a danger to her teacher or fellow students? No! Did it take a military-styled approach to get the matter under control? No! Did it take an oversized guy to come in, throw her across the room and make an arrest? Absolutely not! What Deputy Sheriff Fields showed was not school discipline, it was straight out terrorism.
“The deputy should not have even been called in. It could have been handled by the school administrator and ultimately by the principal,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
Fields is seen as both a nice guy and a villain, depending on who you talk to. The general consensus of black students and parents is that Fields is a racist who should not be policing the streets, let alone be allowed into the classroom.
Reginald Seabrooks, one of the students who filmed the incident, however, commented on Youtube, “The officer in this is a cool dude, he is not Racist!!!. Girl was asked … to put the phone away…” Seabrooks said the girl wanted to “show out.” Fields is his former football coach.
A young woman said Fields was helpful to students, but also described him as “mean.”
Lott stated that the teacher and administrators supported the officer’s actions. They said “he did not use excessive force and the student was the one who was combative.”
Fields is currently named in a lawsuit from an incident that occurred in 2013. The suit, which goes to trial in January, states that the deputy has a history of racially profiling, targeting and using excessive force against African Americans.
Ten years ago, black military veteran Carlos Martin had a rough encounter with Fields. "I recognized him on the spot. I remembered how big he was," Martin told the Daily News.
Martin said he was approached by Fields about a noise violation and things escalated quickly. Martin said Fields “snapped” when he called him “dude.” He was wrestled to the ground and Fields emptied a bottle of mace on him.
Martin’s wife recorded the incident on her cell phone. But Fields told his partner to “get her black a - -.” The other officer took her cell 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.
The couple sued the sheriff’s department for civil rights violations, but the charges were dropped. Martin’s wife later divorced him because she felt he could not protect her.
On Wednesday, Lott announced that Fields had been fired. The department made its decision on policy violations—the main one being that Fields threw the girl across the room. Criminal charges, Lott said, will be dealt with by the FBI. The Richland County Sheriff’s Department has a citizens advisory council. Lott called for citizens to continue to use their cell phones to “police the police.”
In the military, soldiers are trained to take down their enemies. But first, they learn to recognize them. Using race alone as the criteria for deciding who the enemy is , is lazy, irresponsible policing at best. At worst, it is the tragic loss of citizens like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Freddie Gray and Walter Scott, et al.
Is Ben Fields a racist, a man with anger issues, or both? Would it have mattered if the young girl had ended up dead? All the cries of racism would not have brought her back. Perhaps the focus should be on what happens before police are let loose on the streets. How are they screened prior to employment? What are the prevailing ideas about working in communities of color? What are the assumptions?
Imagine for a moment that officers were required to put their guns away when dealing with civilians who were no physical match for them. They would have to rely more on logic, patience and tolerance than brute military force. Someone needs to tell law enforcement agencies that this is America, not Afghanistan.