Two videos, apparently shot by high school students in a South Carolina classroom, show a White sheriff’s deputy ordering a female African-American student to come with him and, when she refuses, lifting her out of her desk and dragging her across the floor.
The Richland County sheriff, Leon Lott, told a South Carolina television station that the officer, a deputy with the sheriff’s department, had been responding to a disruptive student who was refusing to leave class at Spring Valley High School, a campus of about 2,000 students that is about 52 percent black and 30 percent white, the New York Times reports.
Local authorities, including the school board, say they have requested that the FBI and Justice Department conduct an independent investigation, according to a story in the Washington Post.
The school district is “deeply concerned” about the incident and is working with law enforcement, the Post quoted Richland Two School District Superintendent Debbie Hamm as saying. She also emphasized that the officer involved, identified by students as Ben Fields, won’t be allowed to work at any school in the district, where he has been a school resource officer since 2008, pending the outcome of the investigation.
“Student safety is and always will be the district’s top priority,” she was quoted as saying. “The district will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize the safety of our students.”
Regardless of whether the student in the video said something bad to the officer or teacher—in fact, no matter what may or may not have happened before the video begins, including any past behavioral transgressions by this student—the use of force was unjustified in this case, since she was sitting at her desk.
What this says about being black in America, particularly for black children in our public schools, is depressing. An op-ed writer in the New York Times, Roxane Gay, sums it up as follows:
Schools are not merely sites of education, they are sites of control. In fact, they are sites of control well before they are sites of education. And for certain populations — students of color, working-class students, anyone on the margins — the sites of control in the school system can be incredibly restrictive, suffocating, perilous.