No Country for Black Girls
#Assault at Spring Valley High How the Innocence of Black Teens Is Ripped Away in the Face of White Aggression
"In 132 school districts in the former
Confederacy, African-American students
were suspended at a rate five times greater
than their representation in the population."
again, the criminalization of Black children takes the spotlight with
reports from Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, of
an officer violently assaulting a Black teenage girl. A video
surfaced showing Ben Fields, a deputy sheriff, wrapping his arms around
the neck around the girl in a classroom, flipping her desk with her in
it, and slamming her to the ground. The deputy then proceeds to
drag the young woman across the floor, and arrests her.
incident started when the student reportedly looked at her cellphone
and was not participating in class. According to Lt. Curtis
Wilson, a Richland County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, the
instructor had asked the student “to leave the class several times,” as
CNN reported. Subsequently, an administrator came into the
classroom to ask the student to leave. When Fields entered the
classroom, students were shocked at what ensued.
was crying, screaming and crying like a baby. I was in disbelief,” said
student Niya Kenny to WLTX-TV. “I know this girl don’t got nobody
and I couldn’t believe this was happening. I had never seen nothing
like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl. A big
man, like 300 pounds of full muscle. I was like ‘no way, no way.’ You
can’t do nothing like that to a little girl. I’m talking about she’s
Kenny, who caught the incident on her cellphone, was also arrested.
was screaming ‘What the f, what the f is this really happening?’ I was
praying out loud for the girl,” said Kenny. “I just couldn’t believe
this was happening I was just crying and he said, since you have so
much to say you are coming too. I just put my hands behind my back.”
The teen was charged with “disturbing schools”.
child, and I’m not mad at her, she was brave enough to speak out
against what was going on and didn’t back down and it resulted in her
being arrested,” says Doris Kenny, Niya’s mother. “But looking at
the video, who was really disturbing schools? Was it my daughter or the
officer who came in to the classroom and did that to the young girl?”
Tony Robinson, Jr., who also recorded the assault, said he was deeply disturbed.
never seen anything so nasty looking, so sick to the point that you
know, other students are turning away, don’t know what to do, and are
just scared for their lives,” he said.
Robinson said the officer unnecessarily escalated the incident.
supposed to be somebody that’s going to protect us,” he said. “Not
somebody that we need to be scare off, or afraid. That was wrong. There
was no justifiable reason for why he did that to that girl.”
Robinson said Fields first told the girl, “you will move, you will move.”
said, ‘No, I have not done anything wrong,” Robinson said. “Then he
said, ‘I’m going to treat you fairly.’ And she said, ‘I don’t even know
who you are.’ And that is where it started right there.”
The sheriff told CNN’sAnderson Cooper 360there was no justification for some of the officer’s actions.
she had not disrupted the school and disrupted that class, we would not
be standing here today. So it started with her and it ended with
my officer,” the sheriff said. “What I’m going to deal with is what my
deputy did. There’s no justification for some of his actions. We want
to de-escalate situations instead of escalate them. When you have
somebody on fire you don’t want to throw gasoline on them. You want to
put the fire out.”
also claimed racism was not a factor in the incident because Fields has
been “dating an African-American woman for quite some time.”
Other classmates and former students at Spring Valley weighed in on social media:
was suspended without pay and then fired. The school board, local authorities,
the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice are investigating. Spring
Valley High School Principal Jeff Temoney called the incident a
“horrific episode” that “hit me in the gut,” and said he would work
with the school community to make sure this does not happen again.
Fields, a weightlifter nicknamed the “Incredible Hulk” by students at
Spring Valley High for his aggressive behavior and massive appearance,
has a history of alleged misconduct and racial bias, and has been sued
twice in federal court. He was first sued in 2007, in an incident
stemming from his time as a patrol deputy in 2005. As theNew York Daily Newsreported,
Fields slammed Carlos Martin, a Black 36-year old Army veteran on the
ground in his parking lot and pepper-sprayed him. Fields was responding
to a noise complaint. Martin’s wife at the time, Tashiana Rogers,
witnessed the beating and took photos with her cellphone. Fields
then told his partner to “get her black ass,” Martin said. The cop
then grabbed her phone and deleted the photos.
“I’m watching my wife get beat up in front of me, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” Martin said.
In a civil rights lawsuit filed by the couple, a jury ruled in Fields’ favor.
a second lawsuit, in which trial begins in January 2016, Fields accused
a Black high school student of being a gang member without proof.
In 2013, Ashton James Reese was expelled from the high
school for “unlawful assembly of gang activity and assault and
battery.” Reese was accused of participating in a “gang related”
fight in a Walmart parking lot near the Spring Valley High School.
Reese’s lawsuit claims that Fields “recklessly targets
African-American students with allegations of gang membership and
criminal gang activity.”
the events in Columbia highlight the crisis of policing of the public
schools, the criminalization of Black children and racially biased
disciplining in our schools. Zero tolerance policies, and the use
of the police state to discipline Black children, create a gateway for
them to enter prison.
AUniversity of Pennsylvania study found
that most of the 1.2 million suspensions of Black children–55 percent–
take place in the South. In 132 school districts in the
former Confederacy, African-American students were suspended at a rate
five times greater than their representation in the population.
throughout the nation, Blacks were 35 percent of the boys suspended and
34 percent of boys expelled from public schools. In the Southern
states, they accounted for 47 percent of suspensions and 44 percent of
expulsions, higher than any other racial group, and the leader in
suspensions in 11 of 13 states. Across the U.S., Black girls
account for 45 percent of girls suspended and 42 percent of girls
expelled from school. But down South, Black girls were 56 percent
of suspensions for girls and 45 percent of expulsions, the highest
among all girls. In 10 of 13 states, Black girls were suspended
more than any other girls.
the school-to-prison pipeline is a big reality for Black boys, there is
a threat facing Black girls as well. As NPR reported in February,
Columbia University law professor Kimberle Williams Crenshaw and her
associates, Priscilla Ocen and Jyoti Nanda, wrote a study called “Black
Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.” Their
research, which examined data from public schools in Boston and New
York, found that girls of color, particularly Black girls, are subject
to discipline more frequently and harshly than that of white girls.
Further, they aresix times more likely to be suspendedthan their white peers. These racial disparities in punishment for girls are greater than for boys.
believe that stereotypes and gender-based punishments may play a role
in the over-disciplining of black girls,” Crenshaw said. “The young
women we spoke to believed that many of their teachers viewed them
negatively as girls who ‘can’t be trusted,’ or girls who are ‘loud’ and
‘rowdy,’ ‘ghetto’ and ‘ignorant.’ Stakeholders also shared their
perceptions that the demeanor of black girls was often misinterpreted
as defiant or as challenging authority when in fact the girls were
simply engaged, curious and expressive.”
the Charleston massacre and the Confederate flag controversy, the
police murder of Walter Scott in North Charleston, the South Carolina
flood, and now the assault at Spring Valley High School, it has been a
rough year for the Palmetto State.