COMPILED FROM WIRE REPORTS
Leading Black women across the nation are expressing outrage this week over the videotaped violent incident showing a White police officer in Columbia, S.C. grabbing a Black 16-year-old female high school student around her neck, flipping her desk; then dragging her across the floor and tossing her across the classroom.
“I was shocked and immobilized to watch the brutal officer physically abuse a young girl because she ‘disobeyed’ his orders. She may have been disobedient, but she did not deserve to be dehumanized and, indeed, defeminized,” said Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a Black press columnist and former president of the Bennett College for Women.
“Imagine the national outcry if a young White girl, blonde hair streaming, was so brutally tossed about in a classroom.”
The outrage grew this week as it was learned that the officer, identified by students as Deputy Ben Fields of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, was previously accused of battery and using excessive force.
The Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating Monday’s incident, videotaped by students in the classroom. Posted on multiple social media platforms, the viral videos were quickly picked up by national news outlets.
It has become a familiar scene. In recent years, such videos have led to escalating protests of police misconduct in Black communities.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott told local media that the deputy, assigned to the Spring Valley High School as a resource officer, went to the classroom after being summoned by school officials who said the teen was disruptive, refused to put away her cell phone at a teacher’s request, and refused to leave the classroom.
Fields was first suspended from the sheriff’s department without pay, pending completion of an investigation. Lott, who said the teen swung at the officer as he grabbed her, announced Wednesday that Fields has been fired.
“The maneuver that he used was not based on the training or was acceptable,” Lott said. “That is not proper technique and should not be used in law enforcement,” Lott said.
Student to blame?
However, Lott argues that the student was still to blame for being insubordinate and disrespectful to her teacher and for refusing the orders of the teacher and a vice principal to leave the classroom.
“The student was not allowing the teacher to teach and the students to learn. She was very disruptive, she was very disrespectful. She started this.”
Lott said that although the toss was against department policy and gave him “heartburn,” the teacher and the vice principal in the classroom supported what the deputy did with the student.
“The teacher and the school administrator, in their statements (to investigators), both fully supported the actions of Fields,” Lott said. “They both said he acted appropriately, he didn’t use excessive force.”
Top school administrators disagreed, however, banning Fields from all district schools after video of the incident went public.
Although the officer has been fired, Lott said the unidentified student remains charged with disrupting school, a misdemeanor in South Carolina.
The student’s attorney, Todd Rutherford, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that contrary to official reports, the student was injured in the incident.
“She now has a cast on her arm, she has neck and back injuries. She has a Band-Aid on her forehead where she suffered rug burn on her forehead,” Rutherford said.
Another student, Niya Kenny, 18, who told her classmates to tape the incident and openly voiced her disdain for the violence, was also arrested.
“Seeing her being thrown across the classroom like that was really traumatizing. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like that in my life and it just really broke my heart to watch it,” said Kenny, interviewed with her mother and attorney on CNN.
Kenny was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after the 16-year-old girl was escorted out of the classroom.
“We’ve heard about his reputation and we’ve heard about he’s a really…dangerous man to get involved with. He returned asking, “‘Do you want some of this too?’” she recounted. Fearing his violence, she said she peacefully placed her hands behind her back.
Forced to watch
Other students in the classroom appeared stunned and immobile as they watched the scene unfold.
Malveaux said the demeanor of the male students reminded her of how Black men have historically – including during slavery – “been forced to watch the denigration of Black women, who have been raped and beaten to ensure that the men of our race will stand frightened and mute in the face of oppression. Watching a classmate brutally torn and tossed from a desk, anyone with the inclination to speak up must have feared brutal retaliation.”
‘Just standing by’
“I read an article earlier this year that referred to Black girls as ‘Pushed out, over-policed and under-protected.’ This came to my mind when I saw the video,” said Dr. Elsie Scott, founding director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center at Howard University.
“The young lady was pushed out of school by a police officer who clearly seemed to be using more than necessary enforcement. Then when I saw the Black male teacher just standing by, I felt bad that she had no one to protect her. We are seeing increasingly more cases where Black girls and women are being subjected to abuse and over enforcement. We must start placing more attention on the plight of females in the criminal justice system.”
No feminist outrage
The Rev. Omarosa Manigault, a reality television star who pastors in Los Angeles, called for White female counterparts in civil rights to rise up.
“Where are the women’s rights organizations like the National Organization for Women when little Black girls are being treated in this inhumane way? Where is the outrage?” Manigault said. “This young lady was treated like a thug or a thief, instead of a pupil sitting in a class room behaving like a regular teen.”
More than a dozen parents and community members spoke out at a Tuesday night meeting of the Richland 2 School District, with some saying the issue wasn’t about race but about finding ways to handle defiant students, according to The Associated Press.
One speaker, Craig Conwell, said he was angry, urged board members to take action, and said the officer should have been fired immediately.
“If that was my daughter … that officer being fired would be the least of his worries,” Conwell said, according to the AP. “We are sick and tired of Black women being abused. You can say it’s not racist all you want to.”
Content from the Trice Edney Newswire and Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times / TNS was used to prepare this report.