(Politics As Usual) How the system failed a South Carolina student
Written By Daniel Johnson
Everyone failed her. The school failed her by not thoroughly checking the background of the school resource officer who as it turns out, has a rather violent history which includes a use of force violation against an ex-United States military member. The teacher who is entrusted with her well-being and security while she is at school failed her by not letting the phone issue slide and continuing the lesson. Instead of tending to her education, which is the more important thing, he felt the need to assert his power and authority over her by calling the school resource officer. The officer obviously failed her by using his authority as a literal battering ram, picking up the desk and slamming the student who was within the desk several times in a display of grotesque instability.
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She was trapped in an arena of violence against her, in the first, the teacher practices a passive kind of violence in which he does not deescalate the situation but instead he escalates the situation by first threatening to call the police on her first instead of possibly calling her parents or as I have mentioned previously, dropping the non-issue altogether. Instead of continuing with the lesson and possibly making himself a note to contact her parents, this teacher chose to attempt to assert his power which lead to an actively violent confrontation. The second kind of violence is the much more familiar active variation of violence whereby her natural rights of autonomy and peaceful existence were violently thrust into disarray. This officer practiced the only kind of compliance which he seems to understand how to obtain, that is, the compliance by force of a boot upon her freedom. The other students failed her as well, but their failure is a result of the climate of fear which pervades most of us when we see a grave injustice perpetuated upon a relative stranger in public. Their failure is a bit like the failure of the slaves to rise up against a corrupt and vile slave master with a penchant for issuing out violence to those he has under his control. In a very real sense, they are trapped under the dual weight of helplessness and the legality of the officer’s use of deadly force. The nebulous comment “I feared for my life” has become the only legal basis for murder of citizens in an alarming number of cases and this is the context and the backdrop against which the students likely watched in horror with mouths agape and eyes terribly wavering as they wondered what would come of their classmate.
If we hold to this dogma of “She should have complied” as our only way of giving the officer an out, what we are doing is expressing our internalized expectation to hold ourselves accountable for our own oppression. This dogma is akin to telling Sandra Bland that had she not been a “mouthy” Black woman, that she would still be alive today. This dogma is victim blaming 101, and it is paramount to our survival in this America that we abandon this practice of giving outs to abusive authority figures. There should be no leniency given to the adults in this situation, all of them upon whom power is bestowed to use in the best interest of the child who does not want to put away a cell phone. Just think about this for a second, all of this stems from a child who did not want to put away her cell phone or have it taken from her.
What does it say about us as a society if we clamor to say “she should have put the phone away” before we clamor to say “the adults should have handled that situation better”? What we do then is we add our vocalizing of our approval of the violence done against her onto her experienced violence, further compounding the problems in this situation. There is no room in our classrooms for teachers and police officers who wield either violence or the threat of violence over the heads of young Black women as if that does not make their actions sanctioned bullying. If we actually care about the young woman in the situation, we will not be in a rush to defend the bullies here when she is the actual victim. Let us not pile onto the violence she must now recover from. Let us not fail her too.