The firing of Spring Valley High School resource officer Ben Fields comes after two days he went viral as an excessively violent and questionably racist disciplinarian. In response to a teacher’s complaint of a student disrupting class, Fields body slammed and dragged the student across her classroom before arresting her and charging her with disturbing school. Despite Richland County sheriff Leon Lott’s initial dismissal of the incident as race related due to Fields’ being in an interracial relationship, the FBI and Justice Department have effectively initiated a civil rights investigation.
But it is not merely the misconduct of Deputy Fields that has caused national disdain, it is the underlying message that often gets lost within most incidents of violence toward young people of color by law enforcement: they are subject to comparatively harsher treatment and punishment than their white counterparts in the educational and judicial systems, specifically young girls. Most disturbing is the majority of these incidents involve white male officers exercising brutality as discipline, and many doing so in a nature that is covertly sexual.
The question we all must ask is why it normal for young women of color to undergo dehumanizing and deprecating forms of social and behavioral training, which is to ultimately probe the lived and imagined understandings of black womanhood. Innocence, vulnerability, and defiance—characteristics of youth and adolescence— do not register as traits young girls of color would possess, as their bodies albeit not adult “inhabit a sex/gender hierarchy in which inequalities of race and gender are sexualized.” These peculiar margins prevent and distort entrance into a phase of being that their white counterparts are not denied.
Is it odd then, that in disciplining girls of color authorities deem it necessary to dominate than to teach; to attack as opposed to solve? It does not matter how big or small or threatening she is, what she is actually doing or even wearing, it is what her body represents: a body to be tamed.
Perhaps acting on instinct, Fields exemplifies this daunting reality. If it is his natural inclination to body slam and drag a young woman of color across a room when she defies his authority, it is likely that he does not value her life in the same way he values his own. Him sharing a relationship with a black woman does not mean he sees her or other black women as equals, and this is made obvious in his disturbing handling of the situation he was called to attend.
Furthermore, such “disciplining” instills fear in not only this student but in everyone who had to witness it, in all who could do nothing but try not to look at the darkness of unrestrained, uniformed white supremacy.