Black Teenage Girl Assaulted by White School Cop

Yesterday in South Carolina a sixteen year old black girl was assaulted by a white school police officer. Her crime? She had refused her teacher’s request to put away her phone. Her punishment? As seen in the above video, the sherriff’s deputy, Ben Fields, grabbed her by the neck, violently flipped her over her high school chair, threw her to the ground, and dragged her across the room like a rag doll. The rest of the class and the teacher appear frozen and no one moved to help her. The victim, known only as “Shakara”, and her friend, Niya Kenny, who videotaped the event, were charged with “disturbing schools,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $1000 fine. Officer Fields has not been charged for his excessive force. He was not even fired, but placed on disciplinary leave with pay.

assault at spring valley highWhy is the punishment is an egregious over-reaction to the crime? Because the victim is black. Excessive police brutality is a symptom of the festering wound of institutional racism that refuses to heal at the core of America. At its heart lies the belief that black and brown people mean less, or else why would they be so devalued? This is where the School-To-Prison-Pipeline begins, when black students are charged with minor offenses that, while white students land them in the principal’s office. Black girls are suspended at “a rate six times higher than their Caucasian female counterparts.”[1] Black girls make up only 14% of the American population, but they comprise 33% of the juvenile justice population.”[2] Overall black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students.[3] Black and Brown kids are being sent to juvenile courts and prison for everything from truancy to scuffles at school.

Officer Ben Fields apparently has a history of attacking and intimidating other students and citizens based on racial profiling and bias[4]. In fact he is currently facing a lawsuit from a student who says he unfairly targets Black students with allegations of gang activity. He has been sued twice before for “recklessly targeting black students.”[5] He has a nickname around Spring Valley High School: Officer Slam.[6] His boss, Sheriff Leon Lott, stated at a press conference that this could not be racially driven incident. Lott said Fields has a black girlfriend so he can’t possibly be racist.[7] {Eye Roll} Unfortunately this defense is not new. Many white people defend racist action by saying “but I have black friends.” It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now.

Spring ValleyThe other element that is “not new” is the media’s character assassination of “Shakara” and hero worship of Officer Fields. CNN’s Harry Houck commented that “she had it coming, and if she’d only respected the officer, she would not have been viciously attacked.”  “What did she do?” ask the supremacists. “We need to learn the whole story” whisper the apologists, after classmates in the room say she was quietly looking at her phone. “How do we place blame on her and thus avoid looking in the mirror at our own compliance with a broken white supremacist society” is the real unspoken question. The truth is we’ve seen with alarming regularity that black people are not safe in white spaces, including pools, churches, and schools.

threatWhite people have what is called “implicit bias,” whereby they see and treat black children as adults. This was demonstrated in the murder of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy who was shot dead in Cleveland seconds after the police saw him playing in a park with what turned out to be a toy gun. Researchers have documented that police are much quicker to kill unarmed black people than they are members of other groups.[8] Just four months ago, cellphone video captured a 15 year old girl, Dajerria Becton, grabbed by her braids and thrown to the ground by a white cop for swimming in a public pool in Texas.

Black men and women receive heinous treatment at the hands of the police, those sworn to protect and serve. Equal treatment under the law regardless of skin color is a fantasy, not the lived reality of black people constantly under the watchful eye of a racist society and viewed as threats by its peace-keepers.

There is no place in this country where I would be subjected to the same horrific assaults as a black woman, especially by police. So I may not be surprised, but am still horrified, by the disparate treatment. Those who protest the reality of white privilege need only do a cross comparison to open their eyes.

I can pray in a church. I can swim in a pool. I can laugh on a train. I can change lanes. Because of their skin color, black girls and women have been assaulted, arrested, and murdered for these same offenses, which aren’t even crimes.

mary janeWhen it comes to real crime, there is still injustice. Let’s look at marijuana specifically. Many states have decriminalized or legalized medical marijuana and public support for its use is on the rise. In New York City, you can even smoke pot on the street -if you’re white.[9]

I’m a middle-aged white woman. I was pulled over in Rhode Island for sitting too long at a red light. The white male cop did not handcuff me or place me in his police car. I apologized. He gave a verbal warning. I did not get a ticket. He did not search my car or find any evidence of the marijuana that was in my system. He let me go.

charnesia-crowleyTwo months ago, a young black woman named Charnesia Corley was pulled over in Texas for allegedly running a stop sign. The white male cop handcuffed her and had her wait in his police car while he searched her car for pot for over an hour. Female deputies were called to assist; they forcibly restrained her, pulled her legs apart and searched her vagina and her anus for pot, on the concrete ground of the gas station where she’d been stopped.[10] They didn’t find anything.

Why was Charnesia viewed as a threat, subjected to a gross violation of her privacy, and treated like an animal while I was offered respect? There is no answer other than White Privilege and Systemic Racism. The cop saw her blackness as an assumption of guilt, while my whiteness offered me an assumption of innocence. Her dignity and humanity were disregarded when she was strip-searched in public. I was advised to have a nice day.

Black people across the nation are four times more likely than whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession, despite data suggesting they use the drug at the same rate.[11] Once arrested, black offenders receive sentences ten percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes.[12] This is egregiously unjust.

Police brutality is a feminist issue, and one of the most important. Black girls and women are literally attacked and brutalized because of racialized sexism, labeled ‘misogynoir’ by Moya Bailey. If you are a feminist, sisterhood requires your attention, allyship, and action. But police brutality is just one aspect of our country’s deeply embedded racism.

Recently Amy Poehler’s Hulu sitcom ‘Difficult People’ made a ‘joke’ with the line “I can’t wait for Blue Ivy to be old enough so R. Kelly can piss on her.[13] Blue Ivy, Beyonce’s 3 year old child, is a toddler, and the idea of her being pissed on by a known pedophile charged with child pornography is not funny, it’s outrageously offensive. This type of ridicule should always be challenged. Behind the curtain of the ‘joke’ lies violent misogynoir, prejudice, discrimination, and racism. A ‘joke’ about pissing on a 3 year old white girl would never make it to air without tremendous backlash. Lest we forget, Blue Ivy is a girl, in addition to being black. Why does the world only see her blackness and not her girl-ness? Have we not learned, in the 164 years since Sojourner Truth asked ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’, that a black woman is both? Micro aggressions are the bedrock of our subtle, oppressive, white supremacist culture. Ridiculing is a suppression technique that diminishes and belittles its victims. We must speak up when we hear jokes in poor taste, or we will never rise above our stereotypes masked as satire. Here again, a black girl is dehumanized, and treated like an animal. We have an obligation to call this out at every opportunity.

cannot be partSome white women I know say they are “colorblind” and “can’t see color”. They are trying to be non-racist but ironically, this is the most racist thing to say. White women, if we cannot see color, we cannot dismantle white supremacy. We cannot afford to be or act “blind” anymore because black women are being disproportionately attacked and murdered by the very institutions designed to protect them. Are they not women too? Do you not hear your sisters calling for your help?

CLJA8LxUsAAufO4Racism is systemic and embedded in every power structure. As white women, we have an obligation to take action because we have privilege, and that affords us access to spaces and platforms black women don’t have. We have an responsibility to call out misogynoir because, as Desmond Tutu so brilliantly put it, if an elephant were standing on a mouse’s tail, the mouse would not appreciate your neutrality, and staying neutral in times of oppression is the same thing as taking the side of the oppressor.

Why are white feminists like Taylor Swift, Lena Dunham, Emma Watson, and Amy Schumer only able to address an issue if they feel personally affected? Is that not the central tenet of selfishness? I may not be black, but I am personally affected. Like Sandra Bland, who had epilepsy, I am disabled. Like Natasha McKenna, who was mentally ill, I am bipolar. But I know in my heart I would never be assaulted and killed like they were, because I’m white and they were not. I can only hope this grave injustice eats away at you, like it does me, for how else will we be motivated to change?

How Can You Help?

  1. Sign this petition to fire and prosecute Officer Ben Fields. http://act.colorofchange.org/sign/fire-officer-ben-fields/
  2. Contact the following Richland County officials to demand Officer Ben Fields be fired and prosecuted:

Sheriff Leon Lott
Twitter: @RCSD
Email: sheriff@rcsd.net

Superintendent Dr. Debbie Hamm
Twitter: @RichlandTwo
Email:  dhamm@richland2.org

3. Help spread awareness about this issue on social media using the hashtag
#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh

UPDATE: Our voices were heard! Over 90,000 people signed the petition listed above and Officer Ben Fields has been fired! Unfortunately he is still not facing any criminal charges. The only people facing criminal charges are the two black teenage girls who were charged with “disturbing schools.” Sign this petition to #DropTheCharges for Shakara and Niya Kenny and prosecute Ben Fields. http://act.colorofchange.org/sign/prosecute_fields/

Sources

[1] Nia-Malika Henderson, Study: Black Girls Suspended At Higher Rates Than Most Boys, The Washington Post (Mar. 21, 2014) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/ 03/21/study-black-girls-suspended-athigher-rates-than-most-boys/.

[2] Kali Nicole Gross, Drop The Charges Against The Students In Spring Valley High School, The Huffington Post: The Blog (Oct. 29, 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kali-nicole-gross/dee-barnes-straightoutta_b_8023016.html, citing Saada Saar, et al., supra.

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/us/school-data-finds-pattern-of-inequality-along-racial-lines.html?_r=0

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/28/us/spring-valley-high-school-sc-officer-arrest.html?_r=0

[5] http://chicagodefender.com/2015/10/26/assaultatspringvalleyhigh-deputy-ben-fields-sued-twice-in-federal-court/

[6] http://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/what-niya-kenny-saw

[7] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/spring-valley-high-school-officer-tackled-teen-phone-article-1.2412665

[8] http://www.salon.com/2015/10/27/white_america_will_ignore_this_video_the_hideous_predictable_violence_of_our_schools_our_legal_system_our_society/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

[9] http://www.vice.com/read/weed-is-basically-legal-in-new-york-city-now-but-only-if-youre-white-1023

[10] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2015/08/13/in-texas-police-stick-hand-up-womans-vagina-to-search-for-marijuana/

[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/racial-disparity-in-marijuana-arrests_n_3381725.html

[12] http://www.southerncoalition.org/mass-incarceration-people-color/

[13] http://www.vibe.com/2015/08/amy-poehler-blue-ivy-joke-difficult-people/

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