1. After a 48 hour review, Ben Fields, the school resource officer who was caught on camera violently flipping the desk of a disruptive South Carolina high school student, was fired for violating police department policy. Naturally, he and his lawyer claim otherwise, but that’s just posturing for the inevitable union challenge. He had to be fired for many reasons, including terrible optics and bad judgment. The worst of the defenses offered for his conduct was that the girl, treated like a professional wrestler by the much larger male officer, wasn’t injured. If true, that was pure moral luck: from the violent nature of the arrest, it is a miracle he didn’t break her neck. (The student’s lawyer claims that her arm is broken, among other injuries.)
2. The news media immediately declared this a racial incident. The New York Times, for example, began a report like this:
A white sheriff’s deputy in South Carolina was fired Wednesday after county officials concluded he had acted improperly when, in a videotaped confrontation, he dragged and then threw a female African-American student across a high school classroom this week.
I can find no evidence that race had anything to do with this incident, unless one accepts the Black Lives Matter assertion that the colors of participants in black-white confrontations prove that the white individual is a racist and the black individual is a helpless victim who has no racial biases whatsoever. If this is going to continue to be the automatic media and black activist narrative, then I would suggest that police departments only send black officers to deal with situations involving alleged black offenders. That would be a huge step back in race relations, but the presumption that all white cops are racist is even more damaging. Local officials requested an FBI and Department of Justice investigation, as in a civil rights investigation, based solely on the fact that Fields was white. To presume that such an investigation is justified based on nothing more is wrong, though it has been the attitude of Obama’s politicized DOJ from the beginning.
3. The arguments made by some police experts that Fields reacted properly to the student’s refusal to follow his lawful orders are intellectually dishonest. The incident occurred in school. Nobody was in danger. The underlying offense—defying a teacher’s authority and refusing to but down a cell phone—is not criminal, and should not have been a police matter. The kind of force used by officer is indefensible. National Review commentator David French argued that there was “nothing to see here.”
After watching and re-watching the incident, I keep coming to the same conclusion: This is what happens when a person resists a lawful order from a police officer to move (UPDATE: CNN is now reporting that a third video shows the student hitting the officer in the face when he initially put his hands on her). Unless the school is willing to have one student commandeer the classroom indefinitely, the officer has few options beyond physical force — and the use of physical force is rarely pretty to see. In this instance, the use of force was decisive, brief, and did not physically harm the student.
As I already noted, whether the student was injured or not is irrelevant to the question of the appropriateness of the officer’s actions, and shooting her would have also been brief and decisive. Again, it is a school. This is a student, and from all reports, a disturbed one. She was not armed or threatening. The officer is there to keep order, not to act like he’s on the street or conducting a drug raid. Teachers once would employ violence against recalcitrant students (See: “The Blackboard Jungle”). As parents have increasingly failed their duty to raise children to respect authority and behave in class, and as courts foolishly hampered schools from expelling disruptive students (Disparate impact on minorities! A right to public education even when a student’s conduct is interfering with the education of others!), many school systems decided that someone in a uniform was necessary to maintain order. That police function, however, is supposed to be different from street law enforcement, as it occurs a in non-criminal, disciplinary setting. I don’t know how French or anyone can watch the video and say, “No big deal.”
4. Is the student at fault? Of course the student is at fault. The student created the situation. On “The View,” co-host Raven-Symone dared to opine while discussing the incident that students need to obey school rules:
“The girl was told multiple times to get off the phone. There’s no right or reason for him to be doing this type of harm, that’s ridiculous, but at the same time, you gotta follow the rules in school…Get off your phone. You are in school, get off your phone.”
Incredibly (or maybe not), the former Huxtable and Disney star was attacked on social media for—what? Saying that students should obey school rules? That they shouldn’t talk on the phone during class? Or suggesting that blacks students don’t have special license to disrupt class? Black writer, professor, editor, blogger, and commentator Roxanne Gay, a professor of English at Purdue University, tweeted in a series of tweets…
Raven Symone’s foolishness is not funny. It’s damaging and embarrassing…Raven must think that she won’t get got by a white police officer when she falls out of line… by having an asinine, dangerous opinion as a human being.
What is out of line is a Perdue English Professor writing “get got,” as well as disputing the fact that students should follow rules and obey lawful authority. Then race-baiting Charles Blow, easily the most persistently unethical of the New York Times stable of warped columnists, chimed in,
“You know what? I’m abt sick of you “Olivia”! I’m abt to start blasting your nonsense…”
Oooh, I bet she’s scared, Charles. I don’t read your pompous, bigoted trash anymore, but I am interested in what spin you come up with to make the case that the student was blameless.
5. Cell phones should be banned in classrooms. Doing what this student did—talking on the phone mid-class and refusing to stop—should warrant suspension the first time and expulsion the second. (It was this kind of conduct in the large Northern Virginia high school my son briefly attended that caused me to pull him out and home school him. He reported that the first 20 minutes of almost every class consisted of a few students talking and defying the teachers as they futilely begged for attention and quiet.) Defending the student is like defending Mike Brown.
6. French has another essay on the incident, in which he writes…
“…in her first four years of teaching elementary school, she could count the number of intact, mother–father households on the fingers of one hand — and those parents weren’t even married. Very few parents bother to show up for parent/teacher conferences, and the interactions are often dominated by angry threats to sue for various perceived slights. Lousy parenting leads to horrific, often violent child behavior — and even seasoned teachers can be shocked and frightened when classroom incidents spiral out of control.”
I’m sure that’s accurate. I’m also sure that many black parents teach their children that police, especially white police, are enemies to be feared and defied, not authorities to be followed and respected. This contributes to creating these confrontations too.
Neither has anything to do with the officer’s conduct however, which is res ipsa loquitur—it speaks for itself.
7. This month, my friend Tom Manger, the Chief of the Montgomery Count Police Department in Maryland, was honored as the Peacemaker of the Year at the County’ Conflict Resolution Center. Chief Manger preaches the police technique of de-escalating situations—the mishandling of the Eric Garner arrest is a prime example of this not being done—and trains his officers to improve their de-escalation skills. This viral video of a D.C. police officer who turned a tense street altercation between teens on the street into a dance-off with one of the combatants is as creative an example of de-escalation as we are likely to see:
It worked, too.
If police are reduced to using their dance skills to combat rampant defiance of their authority and to avoid being tarred with charges of racism, however, law enforcement is in dire peril.