There are so many things to take from the violent handling of an apparently disobedient South Carolina teen, including the problem of police in public schools, criminalizing school misbehavior (as is the case in the odd sounding South Carolina statute “disturbing schools”), and the insensitivity of many American adults who somehow think that the cop’s violent actions were appropriate or justified. But I think that the brutalized teen really highlighted the problem of saying “no” in U.S. society.
I don’t know what went down between the teacher and the student before the cop tossed her around like a rag doll, but it seems to me that this didn’t have to come down to a power struggle. The teacher was going to win anyway at the end of the day. I suspect that the teacher was toeing the company line. And the cop showed up to enforce that line — “Obey!”
In the U.S. the most important lessons in school are not reading, writing and arithmetic, but learning to obey authority. Schools teach the pledge of allegiance encouraging unquestioning loyalty to the country. They indoctrinate the children with the idea that the authority figures are always right and make it difficult for children to challenge them or say “no.”
“Anybody can say no,” they teach, but that’s a lie; it takes quite a bit of intestinal fortitude to challenge this system and its inherent injustices. The teen saying “no” exposed the callousness of a small percentage of Americans who on comment pages all over the internet tried to justify her brutal treatment at the hands of a cop. Most of these orangutans even tried to say it was the girl’s fault.
Orangutan is an apt description because no real human being could watch that video without their heart being a little heavy, or at least feeling bad for that child. Not surprisingly, some of those comments came from Black folks. Some Black folks are terrified at the notion of someone resisting massa in whatever form he/she may appear, be it school administrator, boss, police, or U.S. imperialism in general.
Among the blame-the-victim crowd were some of our White fellow citizens who tried to demonize the child because they couldn’t see past her color, so they turned off their empathy. And speaking of color, it is unlikely that a White female teen would have been treated this way, but if this system is not changed, it won’t be long before little Susan is body slammed, too.
I don’t fault the Whites or the Blacks whose empathy light has dimmed. It’s not entirely their fault they live in a society that encourages citizens to be unfeeling, unsympathetic and uncaring.
That child had a right to disagree with the teacher and be willing to face the consequences, especially if what was being asked of her seemed unreasonable. And it was unreasonable to put someone out of class for glancing at a cell phone as her classmates have reported. And it’s been reported that this child had recently lost her mother. The cop should have shown more empathy.
Oddly this same Black teacher/administrator stood and watched this child being tossed around without saying a word. He had to know this was wildly inappropriate, if not just wrong. What adult in their right mind stands and watches and doesn’t at least say something when a child is roughed up like a used dishrag? He was afraid to say “no.”
Niya Kenny, who spoke up after seeing her classmate mistreated, was arrested and charged with “disturbing schools.” According to her, the brutal cop, Ben Fields told her, “Since you got so much to say, you coming too.” In other words, for failure to be disinterested when another human being was being mistreated, she had to be locked up.
Young Kenny was locked up in the local juvenile facility for speaking up on behalf of her classmate who was being brutalized, and for saying what Fields did was not right. She was released on a $1092 bail! Now this is criminal!
And what the cop did to that young girl was criminal, an assault on a minor. Her community should insist that he be charged. This system has for too long taken advantage of the Columbine massacre to lock schools down and to turn school juvenile misbehavior (especially Black children’s misbehavior) into criminal acts.
What kind of society treats its children as if they are criminals? The school to prison pipeline is all too real.
Young Niya was quoted in a local paper saying, “One of the adults should have said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa — that’s not how you do this.’ But instead, it had to be a student in the classroom to stand up and say, ‘This is not right.’”
She is right. We should stand en mass and say “no” to the school-to-prison pipeline. We should say, “No, you can’t treat our children like this!”
Mel Reeves welcomes reader response to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.