What happened at Spring Valley High School this week is, in one word: horrific. But for so many young black people across the country, the situation is also unsurprising.
In the clip that went viral online on Monday, Student Resources Officer Ben Fields is seen violently flinging a female student out of her desk, dragging her to the front of the classroom, and forcefully restraining her as he puts her in handcuffs. The scene is strikingly similar to the June incident in McKinney, TX, where an officer manhandled a teenaged girl at a pool party and threw her around like a rag doll. It’s a scene that parallels so many other instances of brutality across the nation.
The clip is disturbing because of the officer’s violent and excessive force, but the real horror lies in the reality the scenario exposes about being a black child in America: you are never actually seen as a child.
When black children are old enough to go to school, we are socialized to believe that we are criminals. School buildings are outfitted with metal detectors, and halls are teeming with police officers who, while there to protect, also instill a distinct, subtle fear and self-loathing.
The other students in the video remain silent and still as they watch the officer throw their classmate to the ground. But their perceived calmness is more likely fear, and also a tactic of survival — speaking up or stepping in could result in their own brutalization (one student who stood up for the girl was also arrested for “disturbing school,” according to WLTX).
Statistically, black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students, in a school-to-prison pipeline in which policies like “zero tolerance” and the use of law enforcement for school discipline create an atmosphere where nearly all classroom incidents from harmless to severe are treated with the same level of criminalization.
As writer and educator Alexander Orphanides wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post:
Teachers subjectively interpret misbehavior based on racial stereotypes and are more likely to “label Black students as troublemakers.” …These stereotypes endanger Black children in many settings, be it the classroom where they encounter harsh discipline, the judicial system where they are cruelly and unusually sentenced, as they play with toy guns in public parks, or as they attend suburban pool parties where they are aggressively mistreated by officers of the law and civilians alike.
In video below, CNN host Don Lemon suggests that we “need to know more before passing judgement” on officer Ben Fields. But he is wrong. There is nothing more we need to know.