On Monday, October 26, a student at the Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina had an attitude problem. I know, shocker, right? In math class, she refused to give up her cell phone and then refused to leave class, even when an administrator was called in. It’s not sure what else she said or did, though according to the video, she seemed content to sit in her chair and play on her phone. The teacher and administrator then did the next thing they could think of: they brought in the school’s resource officer (SRO), an active duty policeman.
On any other day, the next step should have been ignoring her, writing her up, giving her detention, confiscating the phone, escorting her out of class, or calling her guardian. The student would have blustered, pretending not to care, until her guardians arrived, at which point she would, like most high school students, quickly crumble. Most kids don’t want to risk their parents’ anger. Instead, the SRO grabbed her around the neck, lifting her and the desk in the air, flipped her and the desk backwards into another student’s desk, threw her and the desk across the room, dragged her onto the floor, and then arrested her. Because that is the logical response to a student refusing to give up their cell phone.
Two days later, on Wednesday, October 28 after several videos of the incident went global, the Sheriff’s department fired the SRO, Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields. According to Sheriff Leon Lott, he did not use “proper technique” in dealing with the student and therefore needed to be terminated. However, Sheriff Lott did not necessarily condone his behavior and was quick to emphasize that the student was “responsible for initiating this action… We must not lose sight that this whole incident started by this student… Some responsibility falls on her.”
Many others across the Internet agree with Sheriff Lott, including famed singer Ted Nugent, who recently issued a vitriol-laden statement summed up with the words, “The brat had it coming.” Approximately 100 Spring Valley High School students seem to agree with the NRA board member, initiating a walkout on Friday, October 30 with the slogan “Free Fields” as their rallying cry.
What a bunch of idiots.
So what if the student had her cell phone out in class and didn’t want to leave. So what if she may have tried to hit ex-Deputy Fields when he lifted her bodily from her seat. So what if she may be a “trouble-maker.” So what if ex-Deputy Fields is an assistant coach at the school and an all-around “nice guy.” None of that matters. What matters is that a student was in school. She was sitting in her seat posing no threat to anyone but her future. Then a grown man decides she’s being “non-compliant,” throws her across the room, injures her, and arrests her. Those are the only three things you need to know, and if you know them, you know that the officer was in the wrong.
Some people think that this student is just another entitled brat and a sign of America’s deterioration. Some people think she deserved the treatment because she was “non-compliant” and didn’t immediately snap to. Some people, including the fucking sheriff of this town, think that she needs to take responsibility for her actions, but here’s the thing: she was taking responsibility for her actions. She mostly likely knew that using her cell phone in class would result in a write up, detention, or some other disciplinary action. She probably expected that to happen, for her mother to be called, for her cell phone to eventually be taken from her, and to be yelled at. These are reasonable and expected consequences for ignoring an authority figure. What is not a reasonable and expected consequence for being “non-compliant” is being back flipped out of her desk, thrown across the room, and arrested. There is no way she could have anticipated that response because it is not a reasonable response. The only person in that classroom that had control of what ex-Deputy Fields was doing was ex-Deputy Fields. He is the only person in that classroom that decided to lay hands on someone and commit violence against them. He is therefore the only person that needs to take responsibility for his actions, the videos, and the negative attention being cast on the school and the community. The student bears no responsibility for his actions or what happened because of them.
Yes, teenagers can be irritating and sullen and, yes, allowing one student to disobey can open the doors for others – but that does not mean that we violently assault that teenager. In my teaching career, I have had students swear at me, throw things at me, shout at me, light fires in my face, and bring saws, cigarettes, lighters, and knives to school, and I have never laid a hand on them. I have called the principal on them. I have called their parents. I have transferred them out of my class. I have tanked their grades. I have sat next to them and made sure they didn’t cheat, and I have confiscated items from them. It was exhausting and frustrating, and it is the reason I am no longer a teacher, but it is what you have to do when you work with children without strong support systems or adequate love and attention growing up. It is the price you pay for working with at-risk kids, and if it’s not a price you’re willing to pay, then you shouldn’t be working with them.
So maybe ex-Deputy Fields is a good man (though I’ll go on the record and say I doubt it), and maybe he never would have resorted to these actions if he’d been in a different school or district. Fine, but then he should have transferred. Before this ever happened, he should have taken responsibility for his actions, his mentality, and his attitude and left the situation. That is what “de-escalation” means. It means leaving the situation. It means admitting to yourself that you can’t always win. It means finding out-of-the-box solutions for a problem. It does not mean hitting a person again and again and again until they finally comply. That is abuse and that should never, ever, ever happen.