Recently, a video of a teenage girl at Spring Valley school in South Carolina went viral. The video shows the student sitting at her desk when a police officer overturns the desk, throwing her to the ground and then across the room. He later arrests her.
[Google it if you want to read more, I have chosen to remove the video.]
Officer Ben Fields has since been fired. However, I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend on YouTube and in the media. I’ve noticed people are making excuses for the police officer and blaming the victim. Here are the common claims that I have heard.
Claim #1: “The girl was disrupting the class and being insubordinate, she brought this on herself.”
Claim #2: ” Black Youth today are out of control and the only way to maintain order is to use physical force. ”
Why I Disagree with these claims…
Claim #1: She brought this on herself..
As someone who has worked in an educational setting with children, some of whom exhibited disruptive behavior, there is no excuse for the cop exhibiting that level of force with that student.
There are proper procedures for addressing disruptive behavior. Specially trained educators and psychologists know how to address challenging behavior without using the force the police officer used. For example, they could have used a strategy called “Positive Behavior Support,” this is a form of behavior management that is designed to address challenging behaviors and reinforce positive behaviors.
Positive Behavior Support (PBS): “PBS provides a process to understand and resolve the problem behavior of individuals or children that is based on values and empirical research. It offers an approach to develop an understanding of why the child engages in problem behavior and strategies to prevent the occurrence of problem behavior while teaching the child new skills.”
I have used Positive Behavior Support when I faced challenges with a student who used profanity and had a habit of throwing chairs and it was very helpful and the student showed great improvement. Sometimes it’s a simple as giving the younger person a choice. You say, “here are your options, you can either give me the phone and stay in the classroom or you can keep the phone and go to the principles office. What would you prefer?” All of these are strategies that special educators use to work with students who are being defiant.
You can also use restorative practice to address challenging behaviors.
I think the student not putting the phone away was a minor infraction that could have been rectified by using the best practices I mentioned above. Also, if the student continued to be defiant, then proper procedure would be to do a Functional Behavior Analysis, which is just an assessment that determines triggers in the environment and observes student responses to certain triggers. You then formulate a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) based off of the Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA) to determine if there are some other underlying issues that are affecting the students behavior.
Using these strategies is called being professional, what I saw in the video was not professional. Unfortunately police officers in schools are not often trained in any of these strategies.
Claim #2: ” Black Youth today are out of control and the only way to maintain order is to use physical force.”
I do not believe that Black youth today are bad or out of control. I think many youth today are up against insurmountable odds and unfortunately many teachers and police officers are not trained to meet the high needs of students today.
Because of the criminal justice system, many younger people, especially younger Black people have to deal with excessive stress at home and in school. The impact of mass incarceration on black communities has been disastrous, fathers and mothers have been stripped from the home and many families are left in poverty. As a result of the intersection of the criminal justice system, racism and poverty, some students are dealing with unimaginable stress and all of this impacts their ability to be successful in school.
Students, especially young Black students are caught in a system where racism, poverty and mass incarceration intersect and some students are developing trauma histories or emotional/behavior challenges because of this. How can you possibly expect a child to focus and trust an adult in school when they see police brutalizing people in their community for no reason every day. I worked with a child who at 9 years old developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after witnessing a young man being beaten by police outside her apartment. Every time she hears a siren or sees someone in uniform, she has a panic attack. These are things that many young people deal with.
As a result more and more children are coming to under-funded, under-resourced schools with trauma histories or emotional/behavior disabilities and the schools do not have enough trained teachers, special educators or psychologists to provide the necessary supports for these students. There is also not enough diversity within the teaching staff at schools. At the elementary level, 90% of educators are white females. What does that say when young Black children don’t have any Black role models to look up to? What message does that send?
Black children’s needs are not being met, they’re being suspended, expelled or they drop out from the stigmatization and then they end up in the school to prison pipeline.
The advent of the mass incarceration policies and poverty has placed youth in an unimaginably difficult situation and for many it is difficult to be successful in school because of this.
Also, the school system comes down hard on Black children. Studies have shown that even when Black and white children exhibit the same challenging behaviors, the black student is more likely to be punished due to implicit bias by teachers.
The school system is failing too many Black children. Even Black preschoolers are being suspended at rates not seen before.
There is nothing wrong with the young people, there is something wrong with this society and until we overcome racism and reform the criminal justice system and reform the school system, Black children are going to continue to fail and be mistreated in school.
With all of this information, it’s no wonder that more Black parents are choosing to home school their children.
What We Need Is:
1) An End to Mass Incarceration
2) Spend less money on putting police in school and more money to Increase Special Educators, Psychologists in schools
3) Smaller Class Sizes
4) More Teachers of color
5) Police Officers who are trained in Restorative Practice
6) An End to mandatory Standardized Testing