Posted by: Catherine Lugg | November 1, 2015

Not seeing the racism in front of your face

One of the appalling issues confronting me has been the anti-black racism of long-time white friends who stubbornly refuse to see racism when it occurs. The latest example is from Spring Valley Hill High School, in Columbia, South Carolina, where a black female high school student was assault by a “school resource officer”–Ben Fields–for refusing to surrender her cell phone. Instead of the school administrators handling the matter, the leadership of the school escalated the entire matter, by calling in the police officer, who promptly flipped the student and her chair backwards and then dragging her across the classroom floor.

The video, which is posted at The State newspaper web site, is damning. I urge you to watch it several times, even though it’s stomach churning.

It’s hard not to see this as racial violence. The student is young, black and female, the police officer is white and male. He completely towers over her. And it is clear that she presented NO threat of violence what so ever to either the school personnel or students. But because she said “no,” the police officer, who has the reputation of “Officer Slam” at the school, felt entitled to assault her. He is lucky that he didn’t break her neck when he flipped her and the desk she was sitting in, over. This is a man who has bragged about bench-pressing 600 pounds.

The officer in question, Ben Fields,  was immediately fired the next day. Clearly, if there had been ANY ambiguity in his actions, the County Sheriff would have placed him on administrative leave (either paid or unpaid). Instead, he was fired. Just like that. The FBI and Department of Justice have also announced they are investigating the matter, since it seems he has a history of misconduct and racial bias.

Earlier in the week, I posted on Facebook about the incident as well as my own thoughts. And yet, a few of my long-time friends, stubbornly claimed it was the student who was in the wrong, that somehow, this young woman, a woman who had recently lost her family, was responsible for igniting the very violence that she received. It mattered not when I pointed out that her family had recently passed, nor when I pulled out all of the dismal data and experiences of close friends of relentless, unending racial bias. Without quite saying it, the inference was that if certain folks wouldn’t be so uppity….

No, no, no. Police officers, particularly those working in public schools, are not judge, juries and to be medieval, floggers. And the context is important. White officer, black young woman in Columbia, SC–the heart of the Confederacy. Clearly, she was NOT submissive, not meek, not accepting the demand that she relinquish her phone (which *IS* her property).  That the young woman who was brutalized was arrested, was just another injury to the ones that were inflicted on her. 

While the majority of my friends also voiced their horror, a few used this as an example of why the student in question “had it coming to her.” I failed to muster any convincing evidence that swayed their dead-certain opinions. One also went to great length in how the “race baiters” would blow this up into a bigger matter–the same person who is a huge Michael Savage fan. Supposedly, this incident wasn’t about institutionalized racism, but that the cop was reacting to an out-of-control student. And there are too many of these out-of-control students in our schools. And why doesn’t anyone report on the out-of-control white students, and and and

In disgust, I blocked the post, which was probably a mistake.

But I have learned a valuable lesson. When rebuking anti-black racism where my audience is partially comprised of the “Michael Savage” contingent, I need to be prepared for the inevitable racial trolling. And call it for what it is.

And I have ended one friendship–32 years or not–For there are some lines that cannot be uncrossed no matter how long I’ve known and cared about someone.

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Responses

  1. Thanks Catherine for such a great response to this horrible incident. I saw it on Facebook and found it distressing to watch. I’m glad he lost his job…..not because I don’t like him but because he seems like a psychopath to me and should be locked up until he is no longer a danger to the public. The fact that some people seem to support his actions is quite disturbing to me. I think quite honestly this is a symptom of American culture where violence is acceptable or even celebrated. I honestly don’t think as many. People here in the UK would think this is OK. I’ve seen a similar reaction from. Americans to other incidents of police brutality and so often it’s white. Officers against black civilians. Maybe black American history throws some light on this fact. I imagine that if this was a black officer assaulting a white student the reaction from the people who couldn’t see a problem with this officer’s behaviour might have been different. One final point, I can’t help wondering whether this police officer would have lost his job had the incident not been filmed and made public. I do hope the victim is recovered physically. I don’t think this is something she will ever get over mentally especially as it occurred at a difficult time in her life. I wonder how much tax payers money she might claim in rightful compensation. I think the officer should be used for assault and it’s just fortunate that this woman’s injuries weren’t catastrophic.

    Naomi


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