By Terri Lee Freeman
By now, we’ve all seen the video of the police officer assaulting – yes, I said assaulting – the female student in a South Carolina classroom. We’ve heard some of the video where the police officer asked the young woman, [and I’m paraphrasing] “…are you going to get up or are you going to make me get you up?” Since the release of the video, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has fired that officer.
You, like me, have probably also heard some of the comments in support of the officer’s actions, stating that the young woman had a choice and put herself in that position.
Yes, she did have a choice. But, this is where I begin to question -- not the state of race relations in our country -- the state of our humanity. I’m not certain how any human beings can watch that video and find justification in his actions.
Yes, I too saw her hitting the police officer, but that was after he grabbed her around the neck and began to slam her out of her desk chair.
For me, this instance raises SO many questions. 1) Have we decided that this is generally acceptable behavior to address disruptive students? 2) While times are different, and sometimes the police need to address issues at schools, do instructors no longer have the ability to control disruptive students? Please note: I’m not talking about students who pose an imminent threat to themselves or others in the classroom. 3) How do adults stand by and watch a child be man-handled in that way? 4) If I, as a parent, was caught on video treating my child like that, child protective services would be called and I would be arrested. Ok, so this is a statement, not a question, but you get my general sentiment.
So what gives? While I am relatively certain that this police officer’s behavior is in the minority, it gives me pause that any individual that has the title of public safety officer would see brutality as their first line of defense. Leading me to another question: is this the act of an individual or are we seeing structures and institutions that simply condone, and often, reward “maintaining control?” The body language of the students in the class room leads me to believe that this was not unusual behavior for this officer. A personal issue. And if that was the case, why was he allowed to remain in a school environment, for that matter, why was he a public safety officer? A structural/institutional issue.
I agree that students should follow directions and respond to requests respectfully. All students have civil rights, and those rights must be protected. A student has the right to disagree with adults in the classroom. Teacher is not synonymous with omniscient. We don’t yet know what the student said or did that required police intervention, but I will give the instructors benefit of the doubt that something of some significance happened. What I cannot give them credit for is standing idly by watching the assault.
Which leads me to my final conundrum. In this country, teachers have a legal responsibility to report any suspicion of child abuse. Why doesn’t that apply to those responsible for the protection of our students in schools?
The National Civil Rights Museum stands as a testament to the effectiveness of nonviolence to create positive social change. We are at a critical point in time that requires another such movement. One where, as Rev. Clark Olsen said at the 2015 Freedom Award, “If we see something wrong, we must do something!” I’m thankful that the Richland County Sheriff did “something” and did it swiftly. Now we need to address the structural status quo that allows these instances to persist and catalyze an organized response for change. The Movement continues…