By now you will have seen these videos of Peace Officer Ben Fields brutalizing an as yet unnamed 16-year-old black woman at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina.
Apparently the student was looking at her cell phone when her math teacher demanded she give it to him, then to leave the classroom. She refused both orders, and the teacher called in a school administrator whose orders she also refused. The school official then called in one of the school cops, and seven-year school ‘resource officer’ veteran ‘Officer Slam’, as some students called him, took charge, finally cuffing and arresting her for ‘disturbing school’.
Fields has been fired, and the incident will be investigated by the FBI and Justice Department for potential civil rights violations.
The young woman had been recently orphaned following the deaths of both her mother and grandmother, and had been placed in the foster care system, so was relatively new to the school. Some fellow students interviewed by media indicated that she didn’t talk much (small wonder). There were a few kids who blamed her, of course, and opined that she wanted to be seen as badass.
CNN notes that Officer Friendly Field’s career has been marked with ‘both lawsuits and praise’, but accusations of his brutality and excessive use of force even extended to current Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott in one civil suit. Lott was apparently upset by the video evidence in this case. Field’s attorney is claiming that his client’s actions were entirely justified, and urges people to find the cell phone video that clearly shows the young woman trying to strike him with her fist, as in the first one. Gosh, it’s hard to believe that she’d try to fight back a bit as she was being grabbed around the neck, isn’t it?
Imagine my surprise, though, when early this morning I saw headlines about a student walk-out on Friday in defense of Ben Fields, and demanding that he be re-hired. Coverage ranges from reports of a hundred to several hundred students having participated. Nah, I won’t dignify their action by embedding videos, but you can check out the #BringBackFields hashtag if you’re curious. And no, they aren’t all white kids, crazily enough.
One aspect of this sick cop’s behavior I hadn’t considered, embarrassingly enough, is expressed well by Chamelia Moore’s ‘Brutality as Discipline: ‘Manifestations of Slavery in The Case of Ben Fields’. Of course we’ve seen it before, but somehow my attention was equally taken by the passivity of everyone in the room, although another student friend was also arrested for ‘disturbing school’ yelling her objections. But then I hadn’t yet I the video view in which he kneels his 300+ lb. of beef down on her back.
“Despite Richland County sheriff Leon Lott’s initial dismissal of the incident as race related due to Fields’ being in an interracial relationship, the FBI and Justice Department have effectively initiated a civil rights investigation.
But it is not merely the misconduct of Deputy Fields that has caused national disdain, it is the underlying message that often gets lost within most incidents of violence toward young people of color by law enforcement: they are subject to comparatively harsher treatment and punishment than their white counterparts in the educational and judicial systems, specifically young girls. Most disturbing is the majority of these incidents involve white male officers exercising brutality as discipline, and many doing so in a nature that is covertly sexual.
The question we all must ask is why it normal for young women of color to undergo dehumanizing and deprecating forms of social and behavioral training, which is to ultimately probe the lived and imagined understandings of black womanhood. Innocence, vulnerability, and defiance—characteristics of youth and adolescence— do not register as traits young girls of color would possess, as their bodies albeit not adult “inhabit a sex/gender hierarchy in which inequalities of race and gender are sexualized.” These peculiar margins prevent and distort entrance into a phase of being that their white counterparts are not denied.
Is it odd then, that in disciplining girls of color authorities deem it necessary to dominate than to teach; to attack as opposed to solve? It does not matter how big or small or threatening she is, what she is actually doing or even wearing, it is what her body represents: a body to be tamed.
Perhaps acting on instinct, Fields exemplifies this daunting reality. If it is his natural inclination to body slam and drag a young woman of color across a room when she defies his authority, it is likely that he does not value her life in the same way he values his own. Him sharing a relationship with a black woman does not mean he sees her or other black women as equals, and this is made obvious in his disturbing handling of the situation he was called to attend.
Furthermore, such “disciplining” instills fear in not only this student but in everyone who had to witness it, in all who could do nothing but try not to look at the darkness of unrestrained, uniformed white supremacy.”
Her ‘covertly sexual’ link goes to Zeba Blay’s ‘For Black Women, Police Brutality And Sexual Harassment Go Hand In Hand’, in which she discusses the groping and rape-like physical dominance so often brought to bear by Serve and Protect Police while ‘subduing’ them. And of course, the same thing happens to women of any hue that have been deemed as ‘criminally suspect’; Cecily MacMillan, for one. But the sexual aspect is indeed one worth further consideration.
In a moment of synchronicity, just hours before this young woman was body-slammed to the ground by Fields, a newsletter was sent to concerned black parents in the district. The Guardian’s coverage is: ‘‘South Carolina officer’s forceful removal of student comes as studies note striking divide in black and white youths’ expulsion and suspension rates; School-to-prison pipeline’ faces new scrutiny with data on race and discipline’ . The data are impressive, and of course, bleak.
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In other unjust police news:
From her coverage at SputnikNews:
“Lieutenant Mark Tiller was well within his rights to shoot and kill the teenager on July 26, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.
“After careful consideration of the facts of the case, a thorough review of the State investigation, and an extensive review of all applicable law, I have determined that no criminal charges should be filed against Lt. Mark Tiller at the State level,” wrote 10th Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams in a statement. “I met with the Hammond family today and have informed them of this decision.”
The shocking nature of this decision is compounded by the fact that the video they released appears to contradict the official story.
Tiller had claimed that he feared for his life when Hammond attempted to strike him with his vehicle as he fled. An independent autopsy however showed that the teenager was shot in the back, meaning any perceived threat had already passed when he was shot.
The video confirms that Tiller fired into the vehicle after it had already passed him. The officer is then heard yelling “He tried to hit me!”
While the state will not be pursuing charges, there is still an open investigation by federal authorities who could charge Tiller.”
“The attorney representing the family in their lawsuit against the Seneca Police Department and Tiller released a statement calling the decision surprising and disappointing.
Their suit alleges that Tiller threatened to “blow his head off” before he fired. It is slightly inaudible in the video. It also alleges another officer high-fived the teen’s lifeless body after he was killed. His body was then left on the ground for 90 minutes where it was soon covered by ants.”
Rest in power, Zachary Hammond, and may your family eventuall fnd sme measure of peace one day.