We Need To Stop Blaming the Victims of Police Brutality For The Violence Committed Against Their Bodies

October 31, 2015
Stills from the assault on Spring Valley High School student last week by South Carolina Sheriff's Deputy Ben Fields (photo credit: AP).
Stills from the assault on Spring Valley High School student last week by South Carolina Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields (photo credit: AP).

An unarmed 16-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to put away her cellphone does not deserve being grabbed by the neck and brutally slammed to the ground by a trained police officer. I repeat: an unarmed 16-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to put away her cellphone does not deserve being grabbed by the neck and brutally slammed to the ground by a trained police officer.

Last week, 16-year-old Shakara — a student at Spring Valley High School — was seen on cellphone video being thrown to the floor of her math classroom by South Carolina Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields. Cellphone video shows that Shakara was seated at her desk and making no sudden moves immediately prior to the violent assault where Fields grabbed Shakara from behind by her neck, and flipped her over so suddenly that the desk she was seated in overturned with her, and then bodily drags her out of the tangle of plastic and metal to lie prone on the classroom floor (video embedded after the jump). Already, social justice activists have rightfully identified the incident as yet another example of excessive police force targeting a Black body for unnecessary and unprovoked violence.

Already, too, however, a chorus of naysayers have also chimed in. “Hold up,” they say, “we haven’t seen the ‘rest’ of the video.”

“We don’t know,” they say, “what Shakara did to provoke the attack.”

There is nothing a seated, unarmed, and non-violent teenager could do that would justify this kind of brutal assault.

Police are given a broad arsenal of physical combat skills. Like any martial artist, they should have the capacity to select several alternative strategies for quelling a conflict that does not require them to violently bodyslam an uncooperative, if non-violent, person on the back of their head — the type of move that has an unnecessarily high risk of leaving the victim with spinal cord or brain injury. Police officers are supposed to be trained in situational deescalation, and proportional responses. Why are we holding these trained and skilled martial artists to lower standards of appropriate behaviour than untrained civilians, and specifically teenagers?

By almost all accounts, Shakara drew the attention of the Sheriff’s Deputy because she did not put away her cellphone fast enough to satisfy her math teacher. That may or may not be the case. It doesn’t matter.

An unarmed 16-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to put away her cellphone does not deserve being grabbed by the neck and brutally slammed to the ground by a trained police officer.

Being at a private pool party is not grounds for being bodyslammed by police. Jaywalking is not grounds for being tackled and bodyslammed by police. Not speaking English is not grounds for being bodyslammed by police. Skateboarding is not grounds for being bodyslammed and pepper-sprayed by police. Being Muslim is not grounds for being bodyslammed by police. Selling cigarettes is not grounds for being choked to death by police. Playing with a toy gun is not grounds for being shot and killed by police.
“Shoplifting” is not grounds for being shot and killed by police. Running away is not grounds for being shot and killed by police. Taking the stairs is not grounds for being shot and killed by police.

Failure to be a sufficiently obedient and deferential person of colour can not and should not be justification for violence and murder at the hands of police.

This isn’t a question of provocation; this is a question of disproportionate law enforcement responses to largely non-violent acts of civil disobedience. We cannot ignore how police violence is broadly tolerated when committed against the bodies of people of colour, and most commonly against the Black body. This mindset perpetuates an insitutional form of racial control, wherein law enforcement exists to quell acts of civil disobedience committed by people of colour with corporal punishment.

Violent White disobedience receives Rightwing flattery as “courageous” and “brave” against totalitarian government control. At the exact same time, society nods in approval as police violently put people of colour “back in our place” for routine acts of disobedience; for being too “uppity”; for “asking for it”.

The presumption that a Black (or Brown, or Yellow) person of colour deserved police assault is grounded in the assumption that people of colour deserve to be slammed to the ground for failing to “hop to” fast enough for authority. It infantalizes people of colour by applying kindergarten schoolteacher logic — a spanking for bad behaviour — against groups of non-White teenagers and adults. It applies a presumption of violent criminality and danger surrounding unarmed civilians (and often teenagers) of colour for acts of routine disobedience we tolerate (or even exalt) in the typical White youth or adult person. It assumes that some insight of rationale for the violence committed against her would be found if only we had five extra minutes of cellphone video; as if when Shakara refused to put away her cellphone, she expressed that disobedience by pulling out an Uzi and waving it wildly about the classroom and screaming death threats and anti-American obscenities, before she then sat down, put weapon away and started on her phone as we see at the start of the video (trust me: she didn’t do any of this).

Meanwhile, we’re not having the far more necessary conversation. We’re not asking why we place police and metal detectors disproportionately in schools and classrooms predominantly attended by (most often, Black) students of colour, and how this creates a school-to-prison pipeline that materially disadvantages Black youth and the rest of the Black community. We’re not talking about what it communicates to Black teenagers about their own self-image when police are stationed in their classrooms; and that these police act not as if they are there to protect students, but because we somehow think society needs to be protected from these students. How can we possibly believe that when we do this, schools should still be considered “places of learning” — and not places of hostility and violence — by Black students?

Shakara refused to put her cellphone away. A proportionate response — one we would expect in a predominantly non-Black school — might have been detention, a one-on-one meeting between student and teacher, or a parent-teacher conference. Only for (often, Black) people of colour do we buy into the totally incomprehensible thinking that a proportionate response for refusing to comply to a teacher’s request is calling the cops to commit an act of violence against a seated and unarmed 16-year-old girl.

The search for victim-blaming preamble to acts of police brutality is absurd, and we need to start calling this inevitable naysaying out for the alarmingly racist red herring it is.

  • Myra Esoteric

    the real problem is

    why are the cops in the school in the first place. what happened to school security. end of story

  • Cops stationed at “inner city” (re: predominantly Black) schools is part of our school-to-prison pipeline, meaning Black students are far more likely to face arrest for committing the same disciplinary infraction that a non-Black student might commit in a different part of the country without facing an arrest and juvenile record as a result.

  • James Hill

    Jenn:

    Today Hillary met with Trayvon Martins family

    Do u think she should meet with the family of Maria Aparece and Huy Ngo; u can google those names and tell me if hillary should meet with their families

  • I know the names. What is your purpose in deflecting this thread exactly, other than to continue to argue that attention should not be focused on Black victims of institutionalized and structural racism?

    This thread is about the Spring Valley High School incident.

  • Skeet Duran

    But sure. We should all be watching out for cops. They have guns and can shoot people.

    Of course citizens can influence officer behavior in chance encounters. Go punch one in the mouth the next time you see one and see if it produces a reaction. That’s so trivially true I can’t believe anyone would argue otherwise.

    Your one way solution is not good enough, the problem resides on the police side. I believe the entire police force in this country needs to be revamped and retrained, we’re not living in a Communist state where corrupt police can run amuck and abuse their power without any resistance. There needs to be a line drawn where the police cannot appropriately raise their hands to abuse people, and that line should be drawn at the unarmed kids and mental people.

    Have you ever seen the police abused and beaten mental people to death? Tell me, how can mental people have control over their actions or behaviors to be able to comply? The police force should be redisciplined to be outlawed so that no police can raise their hands against unarmed weaklings, unarmed kids, unarmed mentally handicapped citizens. Think about it, how can a mentally disabled person be able to comply to the instructions of the police, mental folks have no ability to control their behaviors, no capacity or accountability for their personal behaviors of their actions. Yet, the police can just beat and kill at will on mental folks because they have the power to?

  • pzed

    “‘Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, low income Whites, are all on the same side here.”

    No. That might have been the case in the 1960-70s, but that is surely not the case now. It’s not even close.

  • pzed

    Show me where I say the girl should face corporal punishment.

  • pzed

    “You need to do some soul-searching, pzed.”

    You need to get out of your ivory tower.

  • pzed

    Mentally handicapped and the clinically insane can both be convicted of crimes if they’re found to be capable of discerning the difference between right and wrong. As to the rest of your post… I don’t really see where you were going with that.

  • Skeet Duran

    Your point does not disprove my point at all, please try again.

    Let me repeat. Women are capable of committing crimes, old people are capable of committing crimes, so are children, handicapped and mentally challenged people are capable of committing crimes. But they physically exert little to no threat to the officers especially when they’re unarmed, so it’s unnecessary for the officers to expend violent abuse to these folks.

  • Skeet Duran

    Are you sure about that? Just because 1% of Asians have white privilege, does not mean the rest of Asians are living in paradise with overwhelming privilege. I can recall 4 cases where Asians were abused by police.

    1) An old Asian man got beat up by the police in NY.

    2) An Asian couple got harrassed by off-duty police on motocycles, again in NY

    3) A South Asian Indian man while visiting his friend went to the wrong house and got beat up by the police and was sent to the hospital

    4) A mentally challenged Asian guy was beat up to death by the police in San Jose.

  • Skeet Duran

    Another reason for cops’ presence in schools are the mass shootings, mass shootings usually happen in schools and the malls.

  • Well, actually, according to this database of mass shooting since 1982, schools make up only about 20% of mass shootings, and although most do occur at high schools, they overwhelmingly have occurred in suburban, predominantly White high schools — where cops are typically not stationed; not inner city predominantly Black high schools — where cops are routinely stationed as “school resource officers”. The cops are clearly not there to protect from mass shootings.

    Also, an interesting factoid: Asian Americans are overrepresented in mass shooters. 8.3% of mass shooters have been Asian American, compared to 5.3% of the population. Clearly we need to be talking more about this issue in our community.

  • Also: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

    Pzed clearly doesn’t read this blog enough.

  • Myra Esoteric

    Mass shootings usually happen in rich, white suburbs but these cops are going into low income, minority schools

  • Skeet Duran

    I knew 6 of those, but didn’t know about the other 2, thx Jenn.

    I hope James Hill sees this too.

  • Skeet Duran

    True, very true. I noticed the student body protested to get officer Ben Fields reinstated, which means their initial agendas were to bring in cops to prevent mass shootings as the CNN article reported, but in over time it became apparent that it was more about the “school-to-prison pipeline” as you stated.

    From CNN article:

    “Sandy Hook, Columbine, Red Lake. Those are the names of U.S. schools that became sites of massacres, and also spurred many to think about law enforcement officers rubbing elbows with students in school hallways, classrooms and common spaces.

    Some 43% of all U.S. public schools — including 63% of middle and 64% of high schools — had such officers on their grounds during the 2013-2014 school year, the National Center for Education Statistics noted in May. This includes more than 46,000 full-time and 36,000 part-time officers.”

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/27/us/south-carolina-school-resource-officers/

  • pzed

    Right. Because there’s no such thing as black on Asian violence. Asians aren’t bullied by blacks in Philly (and all over the US). Asian stores weren’t looted and burned down in the LA riots. Affirmative action never ever impacted an Asian college admission negatively and positively for black admission. MC Jin was never called out for his Asianess by black rappers. Jeremy Lin was never faced racism on the court in high school or college. Blacks have never acted “microaggressively” towards Asians telling us we speak well (yeah, that’s rich) or told us we were good at math. No that was all white people. Every last bit of it. All interests of highly educated Asians and the large black prison population lie 100% completely in line with each other from prehistory to the end of time. Obviously. No debate necessary. It’s absolutely impossible for there to be any Asian/black tension. And anyways it’s absolutely impossible for blacks or Asians to be racist towards each other because they aren’t white and have no power and have no personal agency outside of what white deign to grant them. Maybe I didn’t just get the memo. Clearly. All because I don’t read this blog enough.

  • MelaninManson

    Pzed, you make clear yet again that you have no logical response to the criticism leveled against your position. The cry for help above illustrates only that your contempt sometimes outweighs your judgement. No one need support or believe in or ally themselves with Black people to oppose grown men who manhandle teenage girls. This incident involves the same violent police overreach that we saw in Texas this past summer when police arrived on the scene at a neighborhood pool party and manhandled bikini-clad Black teenage girls.

    The officer in both instances was the adult on scene. He retained all the capacity for serious violence, and all the responsibility to control his emotions while he maintained order. All of us can recognize that out-of-control police who respond to nonviolent defiance from children with violence are wrong. In this, reasonable people are united, without regard for race.

    Pzed, your comments here show that you are not reasonable when it comes to Black people. There’s a term for that.

Comment Policy

Before posting, please review the following guidelines:

  • No ad hominem attacks: A person's identity or background is not up for debate.
  • Be courteous: Respect everyone else in this space.
  • Present evidence: This space endeavours to encourage academic and rational debate around identity politics. Do your best to build an argument backed not just with your own ideas, but also with science.
  • Don't be pedantic: Listen to those debating you not just for places to attack, but also where you might learn and even change your own opinion. Repeatedly arguing the same point irrespective of presented counterfacts will now be considered a violation of this site's comment policy.
  • Respect the humanity of all groups: To elevate the quality of debate, this site will no longer tolerate (racial, cultural, gender, etc.) supremacist or inferiority lines of argumentation. There are other places on the internet where nationalist arguments can be expressed; this blog is not those places.
  • Don't be an asshole: If you think your behaviour would get you punched in the face outside of the internets, don't say it on the internets.
  • Don't abuse Disqus features: Don't upvote your own comments. Don't flag other people's comments without reasonable cause. Basically, don't try to game the system. You are not being slick.

Is your comment not approved or deleted? Here are some common reasons why:

  • Did you sign in? You are required to register an account with Disqus or one of your social media accounts in order to comment.
  • Did a comment get flagged? Comments will be default be published but flagged comments will be temporarily removed from view until they are reviewed by me.
  • Did you not play nice? You may have gotten banned and a bunch of your comments may have been therefore deleted. Sorry.

I monitor all comment threads, and try to address comments requiring moderation within 24-48 hours. Comments that violate this comment policy may receive a warning and removal of offensive content; overt or repeat violations are subject to deletion and/or banning of comment authors without warning.

I reserve final decision over how this comment policy will be enforced.

Summary:

Play nice and don't be a jerk, and you'll do just fine.