Race, Social Justice

Who is going to protect Black girls?

Say it with me: #BlackGirlsMatter.

And yes, the Spring Valley High School student who was thrown around by her school’s resource officer on video is exactly that: a girl. She is not a woman, as some media have claimed, or even a “young woman,” which still makes her sound more adult than she is. She is a teenage girl who was supposed to be in a safe space, her school, and was violently assaulted by someone put in the school to protect her and her fellow schoolmates. She is a girl who was recently placed in foster care after becoming estranged from her parents.

And Ben Fields is a grown man. His nickname among the students is The Incredible Hulk.” He is a large conditioning coach, who has already been accused of and sued for his use of excessive force and racial bias. One has to wonder who thought he would be the right person to work with school kids.

 

 

The details of the story were hazy at first. Many sources were reported storylines without much evidence. Days later, one of her fellow students came forward and gave a more reliable, more accurate account of what took place in that classroom. As he tells it, the students were doing an assignment when the unidentified girl took out her phone. The teacher spotted her, asked her to hand him the phone, to which she declined. The teacher then called in an administrator who asked her to get out of her seat, which she still would not do. The administrator called resource officer Ben Fields, who, upon entry, asked a nearby student to move his desk. He asked her to leave. She said “no.” He then took her laptop off of her desk, and said that he was “going to treat [her] fairly.” That sounds like a threat to me. We have seen what the justice system considers “fair” when dealing with black citizens. And I was right, for shortly after his threat, he began flipping her and tossing her around the room.

In the video, Fields wrapped his arm and elbow around her neck, which I could have sworn some officers have gotten in trouble for before. The teacher stood by idly, allowing Fields to aggressively attack the girl. Students could only watch silently as their classmate was assaulted by someone hired to protect them. I could only interpret their silence as fear. America has proven time and time again that authority does not respond well to criticism, especially from black youth. They thought that they could be next. Niya Kenny, a student who tried to intervene by shouting “This is not right,”  was arrested by Fields. She spoke up for her fellow classmate, who was being attacked by someone the school hired to keep her safe, and the consequence was her arrest. As the interviewed boy put it, “That’s supposed to be somebody that’s going to protect us,” and yet there was the protector, violently punishing a girl for pulling out her phone in class. The officer’s reaction was savage and unnecessary.

Why are schools so ill-equipped to handle “unruly” students (though I would hardly call the girl’s behavior unruly)? Why are officers with violent histories being employed to work with children? The teacher and the administrator both deflected their own responsibilities, passing the torch to Officer Fields. But I think that both of them should have been able to handle such a minor offense. She was not being aggressive. She was not attacking or endangering her classmates or her teacher. There was no need for an officer of any kind to get involved. I would also question what the school has done to counsel the girl. Upon hearing about her recent issues at home then hearing about her “behavioral problems,” I would first think to offer some kind of therapy for her. Schools neglect to show compassion for their students and that’s how you end up with viral videos of young girls being attacked by grown men in class.

Though the video has gone viral, I still wonder how well this girl, and her classmates, are being supported. The black community’s least favorite spokespeople, Don Lemon and Raven-Symoné Pearman, both decided to question the actions of the victim in the video. Lemon said that he needed all the facts before he could make a judgement. There are no facts that could possibly be given that would justify the use of such brutal force on a young girl sitting in her seat. Pearman agreed that Fields went too far, but spent the majority of her commentary talking about how kids should be following rules in school. But they’re kids! They break rules, and that does not mean that they should have their arms broken. Thankfully, some people are supporting this girl. A GoFundMe page made in her honor has raised almost $40,000 in one day, which she will need for her medical costs from all of the injuries she has suffered. The page also reminds donors to keep Niya Kenny in their thoughts as well.

Ben Fields has been fired as of October 28th. Some students staged a walkout days later in support of him. Some students believed that the officer did overreact, but not in any way that merited his termination. They did not believe that he could not possibly be a bad man because they had had positive interactions with him before. But firing a menace is not enough. Ben Fields is not an anomaly. He is not a problem, rather he is only part of a much larger problem involving racism and education. Ben Fields could easily be replaced with someone more violent than he is.

But if the school won’t do it, black men won’t do it, and black women won’t do it, then who will protect black girls?