By Emily Moran
Elm Staff Writer
Last week, an assault occurred at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina. A resource police officer stationed at the school was filmed assaulting a black student over the use of her cellphone. After being told numerous times to put away her cellphone, the student was arrested and thrown onto the ground by officer Ben Fields. The student suffered multiple injuries as a result, including a broken arm and numerous neck and back injuries. Prior to the assault, the student made no aggressive actions towards the officer, ruling out possible motivations of self-defense. Although the student’s actions were disrespectful, they did not warrant such an aggressive reaction, especially from someone who has sworn to protect and serve.
After the video of the assault went viral, many were outraged that a school had allowed this disturbing incident to take place. Viewers demanded that the officer, who was sued twice due to allegations of assaults and misconduct in the past, be fired immediately. Just a few days after the video surfaced, Fields was terminated. While this was the appropriate action to take, I can’t help but wonder why it took Spring Valley High School administration this long to fire this man, especially when considering that he has been guilty of similar misconduct in the past.
Of course, with all the outrage over this incident, there was also support for the officer guilty of the assault. A number of people have voiced their support of Fields’ actions, claiming that if the student had only done what she was told, this incident would not have taken place. They also say that, even though the incident was caught on camera, the video is not enough to convict Fields of wrongdoing. Supporters of Fields claim that the student likely did something to provoke the officer prior to the events in the video taking place. Unfortunately, victim blaming is not uncommon in such situations, especially when the victim is black.
What the supporters of Fields fail to notice when blaming the victim is that she was obviously not the only student using a cellphone at the time. There are multiple videos of the assault from different angles, showing that there were other students in the classroom who were also using their phones at the time of the incident, or at least had them close by so that they could quickly start filming. This leads me to believe that this particular student was unfairly targeted and that this assault was racially motivated. It might sound like a reach at first, but a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that black students are disproportionately disciplined in schools in the southern United States, which happens to be where the assault took place. The New York Times reports that, “While black students represented just under a quarter of public school students in these states, they made up nearly half of all suspensions and expulsions.” This assault is not an isolated incident and is instead an indicator of a much larger problem in American schools.
While it may be easier to simply write this incident off as a rare case of inappropriate conduct by an officer, it sheds light on a bigger issue that affects many American students. Such an incident brings to light the institutionalized racism that is embedded in our society. The problem is not so much disrespectful students – there are many other disrespectful (white) students that do not (and will not) receive the same aggressive, outrageous treatment that the student at Spring Valley had. The problem has to do more with the racism that is too present in our justice system.