By now you’ve heard the story and seen the horrific footage of the 16-year-old South Carolina student who was slammed to the floor while still seated at her desk then dragged across the room by Deputy Ben Fields, a school police officer who then arrested her.
Her crime: being caught with a cell phone and not leaving the classroom after her teacher and the officer asked her to. The officer has since been terminated for using excessive force.
Besides the fact that the actual footage is difficult to watch, we’ve also had to be subjected to the most nonsensical chatter about the incident. Some have gone to the extent of actually placing blame on the victim for being defiant. But what saddened me even more about this case was hearing that over 100 students from Spring Valley High School, where the incident took place, staged a peaceful walk-out from class asking that the deputy be reinstated. I understand people have a right to express their opinion on any given matter and exercise their right to protest but still, I wonder if this rally caused any additional mental stress for the young victim. To be handled in such a way is hard enough. To know over 100 of your peers support your abuser is probably yet another blow.
Black girls are subjected to harsher school discipline than white girls. “Data released by the Department of Education for the 2011–2012 school year reveal that while Black males were suspended more than three times as often as their white counterparts, Black girls were suspended six times as often” than white girls.
We don’t know the victim’s name. We haven’t seen her face. But we do know her mother recently passed away and she’s currently in foster care. That’s enough to cause stress for anyone, talk less of a high school student. The school’s neglect of her well being while dealing with great personal loss and her defiance as a possible result of her hardship isn’t a new phenomenon. According to a recent study titled, “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected,” conducted by two UCLA School of Law professors and an alumna, “Girls sometimes resort to “acting out” when their counseling needs are overlooked or disregarded. In environments in which discipline is emphasized over counseling, girls who struggle with trauma and other unmet needs may come to the attention of school personnel only when their behavior leads to punishable offenses.”
Considering such facts, a protest of over 100 of her peers, black and white, in support of the man who likely caused her additional trauma worries me. The demonstration was yet another troubling sign of how the average person measures the value of black girls–especially considering the research. According to the Black Girls Matter study, black girls are subjected to harsher school discipline than white girls. “Data released by the Department of Education for the 2011–2012 school year reveal that while Black males were suspended more than three times as often as their white counterparts, Black girls were suspended six times as often” than white girls.
This entire case drums up so many questions in my mind: Even if her peers didn’t agree with her “actions” and even if they have a fond love and respect for the former deputy, why don’t they feel excessive force was used against her? Why wouldn’t those students be compelled to rally around her after finding out what she’s been dealing with? What did their parents say to them in the aftermath? I imagine a few of those students have done something defiant at one point or another. Did they feel being slammed and dragged is a justifiable punishment? What are America’s young people learning about how they should be treated by law enforcement?
It’s very troubling to say the least. It also reinforces the fact that we who believe in the beauty, potential, and the magic of young black girls have to do our best to rally around them as much as possible. We have to make it our duty to reach out in whatever way we can. It’s crucial that young black girls know that even as they face life’s challenges, they are worthy of love and support.
As I type this note, I recall one of the craziest things I did to a teacher in high school. I’ll spare you the details, but know that I was a depressed teenager who didn’t know how to handle stress, so I acted out in school on one or two occasions. There were times I wanted to tell my parents I needed therapy, but I never had the courage, so I continued to harbor my pain. I can’t help but picture myself as that young girl, being slammed down while still seated at my desk and dragged out. Then being forced to deal with the fact that the story made national headlines and later watching over 100 of my peers rally in support of my abuser. It’s a scene I just can’t stomach.