A South Carolina police officer in Richland County slammed a girl to the ground and dragged her out of a high school classroom, sparking outrage Monday night when videos filmed by students surfaced on social media. Though the video is shocking, it is actually a glimpse into the reality of many classrooms across the country, where the school-to-prison pipeline begins.
According to the girl’s classmates, School Resource Officer (SRO) Ben Fields was called to the classroom when the Spring Valley High School student refused to put her phone away and leave the room at her teacher’s request. The teacher first called an administrator to remove the her, but the girl did not budge. When Fields arrived at the scene, the student refused his orders to get up. Then he grabbed her, slammed her backwards to the ground, and dragged her to the front of the room. In one video, he’s heard saying “give me your hands.”
Watch it here:
“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,” Tony Robinson Jr., one of the students who recorded the altercation, explained. “That’s supposed to be somebody that’s going to protect us. Not somebody that we need to be scare off, or afraid.”
The student was charged with disturbing the peace. Another student was arrested for speaking up in her defense. Fields has been taken out of the school and is currently on administrative leave. An investigation of the officer is pending, and the sheriff has asked the FBI and Justice Department to conduct their own investigation. But the officer’s assault on the student is neither isolated nor rare. SROs have been present in schools since the 1950s, but reliance on them for campus security surged in the wake of the Columbine shooting. Federal funding for school officers also increased after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
But there is no evidence that SROs improve school safety. Instead, students are far more likely to drop out of school and commit crimes in the future, as they are thrust into the justice system at an early age.
Thousands of officers across the country — many of whom are armed — are more involved in the disciplinary process than ever and exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline. Kids are more likely to be suspended and expelled for minor offenses. More children are arrested for nonviolent, school-related offenses, such as violating a dress code or walking in the hall without a pass.
Brutality becomes commonplace when students are treated like criminals. Earlier this month, an SRO was filmed choking a 14-year-old black student. Police at a school in Alabama regularly pepper-sprayed teenagers on campus.
Black and brown students are disproportionately targeted and disciplined by law enforcement in schools. Black students in middle and high school are four times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts.