Waters: On the need for safety, respect in schools

With the terrible trend of police altercations and school violence in the United States, a South Carolina high school is now in the spotlight after an assault on a student.

At Spring Valley High School, deputy Ben Fields grabbed a black 16-year-old female student, lifted her out of her desk and threw her several feet across the room before arresting her. The deputy incited violence because he allegedly asked the student to get up from her seat and leave the class, but she refused.

MSNBC interviewed Niya Kenny, an 18-year old black student who captured cell phone footage of the incident and was arrested and charged for “disturbing school.” Kenny said the incident began when the victim took her phone out in class and the teacher asked her to leave the classroom.

Prior to Fields’ arrival in the room, Kenny explained that she told a few students to get their phones out to record the incident. Kenny explained that Fields has quite the reputation of getting physical, earning the nickname “Officer Slam” amongst Spring Valley students. “I’ve heard, in the past, he’s slammed pregnant women, teenage girls—he’s known for slamming,” she said. This description of Field’s “methods” paints a terrible picture of an officer who is supposed to keep students safe.

It is difficult to analyze this disturbing altercation because of the two opposing sides of the story. One side claims that the student was not at all injured; the other claims her arm is now in a cast. One claims the student fought back against Fields, the other claims she did not.

In this incident, however, there is really no grey area surrounding the appropriate or inappropriate use of force. School administrators and law officials should focus on how a protector of students became a violent adult practicing martial law on an underage female. We can only hope the judicial system will see Fields’ past encounters with students and their reports and judge him properly.

Additionally, many view this incident as racially motivated because the student was black and the deputy was white. There has been no information, however, that should lead us to believe the violent altercation was racially motivated. At this point in the incident, I do not think race should be considered a factor in the use of force.

Even if the 16-year-old student struck Fields, flipping her and throwing her across the room can clearly be seen as excessive force. Fields’ track record is certainly not in his favor and even if he eludes prosecution; he is now without a job and will most likely never be able to work in law enforcement again.

While I believe the student was in the wrong by refusing to listen to her teacher, when someone who is charged with the duty to protect people—especially minors—becomes a threat to safety, there is clearly something wrong. Protection should not equal intimidation.