Video of South Carolina Student Assault Shows that Police Officers Should Not Be in Schools: A Statement from the Dignity in Schools Campaign
On Monday, a video of a young black student being assaulted by School Resource Officer (SRO) Ben Fields in Columbia, South Carolina was posted online, showing us once again why SROs, municipal police, probation officers and other law enforcement personnel should not handle student safety or school discipline issues in and around schools. The young woman was hurled to the ground and dragged violently by the officer, risking serious injury or worse, and threatening the safety of the
Across the nation, increasing law enforcement presence in schools results in increased reliance on suspensions, expulsions and arrests to address routine school discipline issues, overwhelmingly targeting students of color. Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights highlights that “while black students represent 16% of student enrollment they represent 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest.”
Too many of our schools now look and operate more like prisons, with razor wire and security gates, metal detectors, random searches and pat downs, K-9 dogs, and interrogation rooms on campus. We see the stockpiling and use of military weapons and tactics in our schools. Young people face hostile school climates that intimidate the most vulnerable students, threaten system-involved youth with probation violations and incarceration, and scare undocumented youth and parents with the potential for ICE detention and deportation. There are increased incidents of sexual harassment - especially of young women - and
homophobic slurs and abuse aimed at LGBTQ and gender non-conforming students, unfortunately events that are all too common between students and security staff. Community leaders - including parents - that have convictions are also prevented from accessing or volunteering in their own children's schools, thus significantly impacting the ability of students to stay and succeed in school.
The Dignity in Schools Campaign, of which Coleman Advocates is a member, calls on Spring Valley High School and districts across the country to use positive interventions instead of suspensions, expulsions or ARRESTS and to shift funding to replace school police and other law enforcement with counselors, community intervention workers, peacebuilders, transformative justice and positive discipline. Our Model Code on Education and Dignity provides these and other preventive alternatives that promote positive school climates, rather than punitive and reactionary methods that push students out of school.
The Richland Two Black Parents Association in Richland, South Carolina has been working with DSC ally South Carolina Appleseed to call for changes to the role of police in schools and discipline policies:
“Without a clear memorandum of understanding between law enforcement and schools there is nothing in place to prevent such an assault of a student by an SRO. Also, without a district-wide discipline code that clearly spells out that peaceful students will not be dealt with by law enforcement, but by school officials, nothing is in place to keep this from happening again to any other student quietly sitting in class. School districts that permit untrained law enforcement personnel into schools with no limitations run the risk of this happening every day.
Treatment like this of students may be one reason that the US Department of Justice is investigating the Richland School District 2 (RSD2) SRO program. The Richland Two Black Parents Association presented these important policy changes to the RSD2 school board in May but they have yet to be taken up. The district participated in the national Rethinking Discipline Summit in Washington, D.C. this summer and has had its own discipline task force for over a year. Yet despite all of this focus on improving, RSD2 has done nothing. How many students must be hurt before they will make needed
No one expects when they send their child to school that this is how they will be treated. Richland Two has failed its students by not protecting them and putting safeguards in place. Parents and community members can and should demand better for their students and all students.”
We must end the criminalization of youth of color in our schools and communities. Students are not safe in school when they are assaulted by SROs. Schools should provide a safe climate for all students, not push them into the juvenile and criminal justice system. We urge a swift investigation by the Department of Justice regarding the heinous assault at Spring Valley High.
According to a news report, Officer Ben Fields has a history of violence and racial profiling of black students dating back to 2005. In 2007 a couple sued him for excessive force and there is an ongoing investigation into racial profiling of a student named Ashton James Reese. Still, Officer Fields received an Award of Excellence from the district school. Students deserve a school district that does not reward officers with a history of inflicting excessive force and unfair
treatment of students. We applaud the work of community members across the country calling for Officer Field’s termination and ColorofChange’s petition calling for his removal. You can read more about his termination here.
Also, watch DSC members on today’s Democracy Now! show discussing police in schools and the alternatives to school discipline we advocate for. You can also read statements written by other DSC member organizations including Racial Justice Now! here and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. here.