Chances are, you’ve heard the story. On Oct. 26, a student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, S. C. was body slammed, dragged across the floor and arrested for disturbing school. All of this was done by School Resource Officer Ben Fields, or “Officer Slam” as he is called by the students at Spring Valley. He’s known by this nickname because of his habit of “slamming” people who cross him. This student is being intentionally left unnamed, but sources have revealed she is an 18-year-old girl who was recently orphaned.
The accepted account of the incident is that the student involved was “disturbing school” when she took her phone out in math class, then refused to relinquish it to her teacher upon request. When her teacher contacted administration, she again refused to give up her phone, saying she only had it out “for a second.” The administration then went to Ben Fields, the SRO who was stationed at Spring Valley at the time, and who came into the classroom to address the student. According to eyewitness accounts, Fields repeatedly demanded that the student come with him, to which she did not respond. He ironically stated, “I’m going to treat you fairly,” to which the student responded, “I don’t even know you.” The SRO warned a final time, “Are you going to come with me, or am I going to make you?” to which the girl remained silent once more, thus initiating the violent arrest. Fields flipped the girl’s desk, removed her from her chair, threw her bodily across the room, and placed handcuffs on her.
This case has, in a very short time, brought about massive response from people advocating for either Fields or the girl. To some, it is simply a situation in which a person resisted arrest and was treated appropriately. The majority, however, say it is yet another case of police brutality. While it is politically incorrect to generalize police officers as all dangerous people, the prejudice may be necessary to ensure that people protect themselves. With the seemingly endless cases of police brutality that have occurred in the past few years, and are still occurring today, the public image of police has deteriorated significantly — perhaps rightfully so. The question that arises, then, is this: Was SRO Fields justified in what he did, or should this be yet another reminder that we must exercise caution around those who are charged with protecting us?
To decide whether Fields acted justly, let’s analyze the duties of an SRO. An SRO is meant to provide safety for the students over whom he or she watches by maintaining close and positive relationships with them and always being a good role model. If an incident arises to the point where somebody should be prosecuted, it is the job of the SRO to make referrals to the appropriate authorities. It is immensely important that the officer remain someone whom all the students can trust. The duties really are not all too different from those of a child care provider at a daycare.
Imagine, for a moment, you have a child whom you leave at a daycare during the day. Your child begins disobeying the child care provider, so the child care provider proceeds to place the child in a headlock, throw the child from his or her seat, then drag the child across the floor and into handcuffs. The child care provider was clearly justified; in fact, the entire situation could have been avoided if the child had simply followed instructions and treated his or her superior with respect, right? This is true, but at the same time it is dangerously wrong. While infractions deserve punishment, the punishment must fit the crime. The argument that a child should be abused or assaulted for not listening to a care provider is as ridiculous as the argument that a recently orphaned teen should be brutalized in front of the world for doing nothing more than simply remaining seated. An SRO is responsible for not only protecting students from danger, but also reminding the students that they are in a safe environment by exhibiting a calm and collected demeanor. In this, Officer Ben Fields failed.
The evidence Mr. Fields is using in defense is that the student struck his face when he grabbed her, thus forcing him to respond with force. Here’s the thing — It does not matter if the student struck the officer during this altercation. First of all, who wouldn’t lash out after being suddenly and forcefully grabbed by a man as large as Fields? The student was sitting peacefully until Fields grabbed her and began tipping her desk. Additionally, it is vital that people know that Ben Fields has been videotaped squatting 940 pounds and benching 605 pounds, both substantial amounts. Not only does this mean that any physical action he took against a student is likely far more severe than it seems, but it also means that a small strike to the face from a terrified, recently orphaned girl who is being thrown backward is not enough to even hint at Fields being justified.
Regarding political correctness, people say stories like this one from Columbia need to stop going viral so often because they make people, especially those who are young, distrust authorities. Promoting stereotypes of police officers, thereby encouraging distrust of the system, is not politically correct. People should, if talking about the issue, acknowledge the fact that dangerous police officers are the minority. That being said, ignoring an ugly truth does not make it a myth.
If it is true that many young people are difficult with the police because they don’t trust them, then it is only all the more important that the police behave in a manner that restores trust. As one of the people who recorded the incident said in an interview, “This is a man who is supposed to protect us.” How can one expect young people to respect police when cases like this are all that many young people have to judge them by?
Sure, there are many more good police than there are bad ones. Also true, however, is that there are police who should not be trusted. If there is one police officer out of ten thousand who will kill a suspect who is doing nothing wrong, every single police officer must be treated like he or she is that one. Consequently, it is best to be extremely respectful and obedient when dealing with police. However, at what point does a person stop respecting an officer and start sacrificing human rights? Just because an officer might attack a person who disobeys him or her does not mean the person must blindly follow the officer’s instructions. If America learned anything from N.W.A., it was that the right to say f*** the police is one we should cherish deeply. If we lose that right, we lose all it means to be free. A country in which the police have complete control over people is a country in which I’d rather not live.
The most ironic part of the entire story is what the victim — as well as another classmate who attempted to stand up for the victim — was charged with: disturbing school. A phone out in class and a refusal to leave a seat does not impede the learning of other students nearly so much as the display of violence brought about by Officer Fields. Indeed, many of the students in the class are now seeing counselors to deal with the anxiety brought about by the “nasty,” — a term used by the student who recorded — acts committed by their trustworthy SRO Officer “Slam.” I’m just waiting for him to be charged with disturbing class, too.