A brutal attack by a male officer on a black, female high school student in Columbia, South Carolina on Monday has spurred widespread outrage after a number of cell phone videos of the incident went viral.
In the videos, Spring Valley High School resource officer Ben Fields, who is white, is shown briefly reproaching the student, who refuses to get up from her desk, before he puts his arm around her neck, flips the desk over backwards, and then throws her to the ground, where he handcuffs her.
Classmate Niya Kenny was also arrested for standing up for the girl, filming the attack on her phone, and asking Fields to stop.
“I was screaming ‘What the f, what the f is this really happening?’ I was praying out loud for the girl,” Kenny said. “I just couldn’t believe this was happening. I was just crying and he said, ‘Since you have so much to say you are coming too.’ I just put my hands behind my back.”
“I know this girl don’t got nobody and I couldn’t believe this was happening,” Kenny explained. “I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl. A big man, like 300 pounds of full muscle. I was like ‘no way, no way.’ You can’t do nothing like that to a little girl. I’m talking about she’s like 5’6″.”
Below is one of the videos taken of the assault. (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT).
Both students were arrested and charged with “disturbing school;” Kenny was released on $1000 bond.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott confirmed Tuesday that requests for independent investigations into the incident have been submitted to both the state office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as the Department of Justice. Fields, who is a deputy with the sheriff’s department, is currently on unpaid leave and will not return to any school in the district pending the investigation results.
However, the violent encounter has sparked a wider discourse about the presence and use of force by police officers in public schools, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the ongoing issue of police violence against minority populations.
Roughly 2,000 students attend Spring Valley High School, 52 percent black and 30 percent white. According to the school website, Fields is one of two police officers assigned to the school. Reporting following the incident uncovered that Fields already faces multiple suits, including one for “targeting” black students for alleged “gang activity.”
A group calling themselves the Richland Two Black Parents Association issued a statement calling the attack “egregious” and “unacceptable.”
“Parents are heartbroken as this is just another example of the intolerance that continues to be of issue in Richland School District Two particularly with families and children of color,” the statement said. “As we have stated in the past, we stand ready to work in collaboration to address these horrible acts of violence and inequities among our children.”
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wrote on Twitter in response to the attack: “Welcome to the school-to-prison pipeline! This unjust criminalization of our youth has to end.”
And similarly journalist Aura Bogado noted, “The way we normalize police in schools of color is sickening. This is part of the school to prison pipeline.” Adding, “We don’t need cops in school. We need good food. Well-paid teachers. Activities outside of test preparation.”
Tony Robinson, a student who filmed one of the viral videos, told a local news station that he and fellow classmates were “scared for their lives.”
“I’ve never seen anything so nasty looking, so sick to the point that you know, other students are turning away, don’t know what to do, and are just scared for their lives,” Robinson said. “That’s supposed to be somebody that’s going to protect us. Not somebody that we need to be scared of, or afraid.”
Other responses are being shared online under the hashtag #AssaultatSpringValleyHigh.
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