The teenage girl body slammed by former Deputy Sheriff Ben Fields at Spring Valley High School in Richland County, South Carolina recently lost her mother and is in foster care. In other words, she’s already in one institutional system and now, thanks to her trumped up, over-the-top arrest, she’s in another. Her foster mother has said that the girl is now devastated and traumatized. Additionally, the girl’s attorney said she suffered physical injuries as the result of Fields yanking her from her desk and body slamming her — actually tossing her — across the room.
This incident has multiple levels of fail, all stemming from one origin: the inability to treat this teen, this young black girl, like a human being.
She was acting out. She was not obeying the teacher. She was disrupting the class. These facts have appeared in many of the stories covering this incident. That she is an orphan living in foster care has not. That she recently lost her mother has not. For a rational person, making the connection between her behavior and her life situation is not that hard. Someone trained in handling children, like a teacher, a school administrator, and a “resource officer” (a silly euphemism if ever I heard one) should certainly be able to connect the dots between behavior and life situation. But they either couldn’t or chose not to. The teacher or the school administrator should have called a counsellor to help manage the child, not a
resource police officer. A cop’s presence would only be justified if the child was armed and a threat to herself or others. From all descriptions of what led up to the body slamming, this girl was not a physical threat to anyone. She was just acting out.
Humans are complex creatures and we communicate in complex ways. Sometimes we communicate in ways that are not ideal or considered socially acceptable. The question we have to ask ourselves is, how do we best respond to a given situation? No amount of sass or back talking rises to the occasion of snatching a child out of a chair and body slamming her to the ground. So the teacher and the administrator present during the body slamming both failed. Their actions prior to the attack precipitated the incident in the first place.
Firing Officer Slam, as the students called him, is just a baby step. Fields should additionally be thrown in prison on assault charges. But the teacher and administrator should also lose their jobs for mishandling the situation so badly. And then the whole school needs a top-to-bottom review to expose why they are incapable of serving their at-risk students and what steps they need to take to correct this problem. Spring Valley High School apparently has six counselors and a social worker on staff. None of these people have been mentioned in any reports about this incident. The administrator instead brought in the “resource officer.” That’s scandalous.
The girl who was body slammed was crying for help. Instead of receiving help, she got a severe punishment, one that will stay with her for the rest of her life. That is unforgivable. We have to do better.
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