By now, everyone in the world (who isn’t living under a rock) has seen the video which has gone viral of school resource officer Ben Fields over-reacting to a Columbia SC female student who refused to stop using her cell phone in a classroom at Spring Valley High School.
Within a few hours Monday, Fields went from a virtually unknown South Carolina deputy sheriff to the target of nationwide condemnation after a video showed him yanking a student from her desk, slamming her to the ground, and dragging her several feet across the floor.
The officer’s judgment and record of use-of-force may possibly illustrate, more than anything, why we must get cops out of our schools and demand that school officials accept responsibility for disciplinary matters which are not criminal acts by kids, but merely normal misbehavior of youths who are forced to attend school yet not predisposed to behaviors consistent with learning.
Luckily, the student was reportedly not injured (though I have learned she now wears an arm cast) or taken into custody (though I’m sure her pride was bruised), but the incident involving the use of police force has already attracted worldwide attention and disgraced our entire nation. One of my readers from Europe alerted me to the incident, which is receiving huge play in the European media. It is receiving nationwide attention in the US, and the FBI has been called in to investigate. Politicians from multiple jurisdictions and school officials at all levels are embarrassed by what it means. Ben Fields has been placed on unpaid administrative leave, and almost nobody is defending him or his judgment.
However, Reginald Seabrooks, one of the students who captured the incident on video, added this to his YouTube posting: “The officer in this is a cool dude, he is not Racist!!!. Girl was asked her to put the phone away, but told teacher no and Administrator was called and asked her to come to his office. She told him no, he then called the resource officer. When he got there he asked her nicely to get up. Over and over he did nothing wrong. They asked her to get up but she wanted to show off. To some it looks bad but she wanted to prove that she was bad.”
Fields joined the sheriff’s office in 2004 and joined the school resource officer program in 2008. He had been given a “Culture of Excellence Award” by a Richland County elementary school, where he also worked as a school resource officer in 2014. He worked at the Lonnie B. Nelson Elementary School and was “an exceptional role model to the students he serves and protects,” a sheriff’s department newsletter said. He no longer works at that elementary school since he was reassigned to the high school.
Though many would prefer to cast the incident in black-and-white terms (pun intended), a thorough investigation will probably show that in this incident, good people are caught in a bad system that sets them up for dysfunction. Fields was doing what he was trained to do; the female student may be playing her newly-found fame for all it’s worth. Her alleged injuries should be confirmed by independent medical authorities. Maybe this incident will help bring an end to the bad practice of policing schoolchildren when non-criminal sanctions will do.
But only time will tell.
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PS: It was announced today that Ben Fields was fired. “He picked a student up, and he threw the student across the room; that is not a proper technique,” Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County SC said at a news conference in Columbia, where he told reporters, “Deputy Ben Fields did wrong this past Monday, so we’re taking responsibility for that.”
The deputy’s dismissal came after department officials conducted an internal review that, according to the sheriff, found that Deputy Fields had used a maneuver that violated the agency’s training and procedural standards. But Sheriff Lott also criticized the student, a sophomore, in harsh tones for “having started this whole incident with her actions.”
Sheriff Lott said he expected that the student, who was arrested on a charge of disturbing the school, would still face prosecution. There was no comment from a lawyer for the student on Wednesday.
On Friday morning, a group of Spring Valley High School students walked out of class to protest the firing of school resource officer Ben Fields.
“They said, ‘Bring back Fields.’ Everybody was saying that,” Spring Valley senior Ty’Juan Fulton, 18, said of the former deputy. Plans for Friday’s demonstration were hatched on social media and by word of mouth, said Fulton, a football player.
A racially diverse group of about 100 students gathered in Spring Valley’s atrium about 10 am Friday to express their opinions about Fields’ firing. The protest lasted about 10 minutes.
Ty’Juan Fulton called Fields a “nice guy,” and termed Monday’s incident a “misunderstanding.”
“He didn’t have to take it that far, but (the student) should have listened at the same time,” when she was asked to leave the classroom.