COLUMBIA, S.C. - Videos of a white sheriff’s deputy throwing a black high school girl to the floor of a classroom thrust this community into an unsettling national discussion Tuesday about whether black students are disproportionately punished.
The incident, which the Justice Department said Tuesday that it would investigate, follows national studies showing that black students were far more likely than whites to be disciplined in public schools, even for comparable offenses.That issue was receiving intense scrutiny here long before the videos of Monday’s incident were released, prompting the district to form a task force last year to examine its practices.
In Richland Two, where 59 percent of students are black and 26 percent are white, 77 percent of those suspended at least once in 2011-12 were black, according to figures compiled by the Justice Department, though details to allow a comparison of the offenses were not readily available. And South Carolina relies much more on suspension than the nation as a whole; 24 percent of public school students in the state were suspended at least once that year, compared with 13 percent nationwide.
The videos showed a sheriff’s deputy assigned to Spring Valley High School struggling with a 16-year-old girl who had refused to stand and leave her math class, after the teacher reportedly caught her using her phone. The deputy, Ben Fields, tipped the girl’s chair and desk backward, lifting her out of her seat and slamming her to the floor, and then dragged her to the front of the classroom, where he cuffed her hands behind her back.Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County said at a news conference Tuesday that in one video, when the deputy grabbed the girl, she could be seen punching him, but he said his focus was on whether the deputy followed departmental rules. “That’s what the internal affairs investigation is doing, and the results of that will determine his further employment here,” he said.“Even though she was wrong for disturbing the class, even though she refused to abide by the directions of the teacher, the school administrator and also the verbal commands of our deputy, I’m looking at what our deputy did,” Sheriff Lott said.
Deputy Fields has been the subject of two federal lawsuits about his conduct in the past. A jury found in his favor in one, and the other is pending.In a sworn affidavit filed this year as part of a federal lawsuit against Deputy Fields, Christopher Dewitt said that as a student in 2013, he “personally witnessed Deputy Fields call two of my friends at Spring Valley High School the ‘n-word.’ ”The suit, filed by a former Spring Valley student, Ashton Reese, charged that the deputy “unfairly and recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity.”Witnesses to Monday’s incident said that in an Algebra 1 class, the girl, a sophomore, was on her phone, and the teacher told her to put it away. The teacher summoned an administrator, who brought in the deputy. The adults repeatedly asked the student to get up and leave the class, but she refused.When the altercation occurred, students stood up, confused about what was happening, but the deputy told them, “Sit down, or you all will be next,” said one student, Charles Scarborough, 16. Adding to the surprise and confusion, several students said the girl was usually quiet and not a troublemaker.The deputy also detained a second student, Niya Kenny, 18, who told a local television station that her only offense was objecting to his treatment of the other girl.“I was crying, like literally screaming, crying like a baby,” Ms. Kenny told WLTX. “I’d never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl.”As she protested, she said, “he said, ‘Since you’ve got so much to say, you’re coming, too.’ ”
The White House said Monday that it did not agree with the assertion last week by the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, that additional scrutiny of law enforcement in the past year may have made police officers less aggressive, leading to a rise in violent crime in some cities.The evidence we have seen so far doesn’t support the contention that law enforcement officials are shirking their responsibilities,” the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said in response to a question about Mr. Comey at his daily briefing. “In fact, you hear law enforcement leaders across the country indicating that that’s not what’s taking place.”In a speech at the University of Chicago on Friday, the F.B.I. director said there might be many factors — like cheaper drugs and easier access to guns — that had spawned an increase in crime. But none of them were as convincing to him as the notion that officers were afraid to get out of their patrol cars and deal directly with people on the street because the officers were afraid their interactions would be caught on video.
Many have called it “the Ferguson effect,” referring to the protests that erupted in the summer of 2014 after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo. But this explanation for a crime increase has been criticized because it can be seen as suggesting that those who protest police tactics are in part to blame for violent crime. It can also be interpreted as an accusation that police officers are not doing their jobs while crime rises.Mr. Comey’s remarks angered Justice Department and White House officials, because they saw them as undermining the administration’s criminal justice policies. Holding the police accountable for civil rights violations has been a top priority for the Obama administration in recent years, and several officials privately fumed at the suggestion that criticizing the police had led to violent crime.
In Mr. Comey’s speech, he also appeared out of step with the administration over whether the imprisonment of thousands of criminals in the 1980s and 1990s — when there were high rates of crime in many cities — could be called “mass incarceration.”Mr. Comey said these prosecutions “didn’t happen ‘en masse.’ ”“Each drug dealer, each mugger, each killer, and each felon with a gun had his own lawyer, his own case, his own time before judge and jury, his own sentencing, and, in many cases, an appeal or other post-sentencing review,” Mr. Comey said. “There were thousands and thousands of those individual cases, but to speak of ‘mass incarceration’ I believe is confusing, and it distorts an important reality.”
And when you double the prison population in one decade (the 80's) and then you double it AGAIN in the next decade (the 90's), well, if that's not the definition of "mass" incarceration, I'm not sure what the hell is.
We're not increasing crime with these videos. What the real "Ferguson Effect" is doing is restoring sanity back to a profession that has been sullied and de-professionalized by the 35 year War on Drugs/Crime/Terror/Immigration myopia.
UPDATE: More on the failed "zero-tolerance" stupidity from the 1990's:
Since the early 1990s, thousands of school systems around the country have put officers in schools, most often armed and in uniform, while many schools have adopted “zero tolerance” policies for misconduct. That has produced sharp increases in arrests, especially for minor offenses, giving criminal records to students who in the past might have faced nothing more serious than after-school detention.
In Texas, officers often issue tickets for misbehavior that is not criminal — to offenders as young as 4, according to Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit group — and students who fail to appear in juvenile court or pay fines later find that there are warrants for their arrest.But as common as the officers and their arrests have become, there are no generally accepted standards for how they should be trained, used, armed or organized. No one even knows for certain how many there are — most experts estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 nationwide.Experts on school safety say the line between security, the officers’ prime responsibility, and discipline, which administrators and teachers traditionally manage, has been blurred.
And even though the deputy in the S.C. case was fired, the Sheriff seemed to agree with the above: maybe he shouldn't have been called into the classroom to begin with.
In other words, the teacher and administrator in this case are just as guilty as the deputy. Do your job correctly, and there is no need for school resource officers to be brought in to what is otherwise a disciplinary matter.Too often, school officers are “using law enforcement responses to work with kids, and that doesn’t look so pretty,” said Lisa H. Thurau, founder and executive director of Strategies for Youth, an organization in Cambridge, Mass., that trains school officers around the country. Calling in the police undermines educators’ authority, she said, and officers “should not be dealing with cellphone issues.”Sheriff Lott seemed to agree.School officials “have to understand when they call us, we’re going to take a law enforcement action,” he said at a news conference.“Should he ever have been called in?” the sheriff asked. “That’s something we’re going to talk to the school district about. Maybe that’s something that should have been handled by that teacher and that school administrator without ever calling the deputy.”
And let's get this small army of 15,000 resource officers out of our schools and back on the streets fighting real crime.