Tuesday, October 27, 2015

#BlackLivesMatter: The Criminalization of Blackness & the #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh

The assault of a Young Woman

South Carolina school officer and Richland County Sheriff's Deputy Ben Fields grabbed a high school student from her chair, knocked her to the floor and dragged her to the front of her classroom yesterday. This post will outline the events of the last 24 hours, to give a full picture of what is happening. 
One of her classmates Niya Kenny, took up for the student during the interaction and recorded part of it, was taken into custody & charged with disturbing schools. Here is what she had to say to WLTX:

"Niya Kenny, 18, is speaking out after she was taken into custody in her Spring Valley High School math class. She says she was standing up for her classmate who was being arrested by Student Resource Officer Ben Fields.

"I was crying, screaming and crying like a baby," says Kenny. "I was in disbelief."

Related Coverage:Video Surfaces of Incident at Spring Valley High School

"I know this girl don't got nobody and I couldn't believe this was happening," Kenny explained. "I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl. A big man, like 300 pounds of full muscle. I was like 'no way, no way.' You can't do nothing like that to a little girl. I'm talking about she's like 5'6"."

Kenny says her classmate was not participating and was asked to leave the room by her teacher. When she refused an administrator was called in and asked her to leave. She refused and Officer Fields was called in, asking her the same thing.

Kenny filmed a part of the altercation on her phone. The six second video shows Officer Fields arresting the student.

"I was screaming 'What the f, what the f is this really happening?' I was praying out loud for the girl," says Kenny. "I just couldn't believe this was happening I was just crying and he said, since you have so much to say you are coming too. I just put my hands behind my back."

Her mother Doris Kenny was shocked and upset when she saw the video.

"My child, and I'm not mad at her, she was brave enough to speak out against what was going on and didn't back down and it resulted in her being arrested," says Doris Kenny.

Her daughter was charged with disturbing schools.

"But looking at the video, who was really disturbing schools? Was it my daughter or the officer who came in to the classroom and did that to the young girl?

Then another student came forward to WLTX:

"Tony Robinson Jr. spoke exclusively with News19 Monday night about what happened between a student and an officer. A video that he took shows the officer forcibly removing a student from her chair, dragging her several feet, then handcuffing her.

"It was definitely a scary experience," he said.

Robinson says he went into the morning thinking it would be a normal, routine day of school. He was in math class, and he and his classmates were working on their assignments.

Around 10:30 a.m., the girl who had the confrontation with the officer was working on her computer, and had her phone out, Robinson said. He said the teacher asked her for her phone, but she said no. An administrator was then called to the room, and Robinson said he pleaded with the girl to get out of her seat, but she didn't.

"She really hadn't done anything wrong," Robinson said. "She said that she had took her phone out, but it was only for a quick second."

While she didn't comply, Robinson said the girl was apologetic.

Then the officer, identified as Ben Fields, was called to the class. Robinson said when Fields came in, he asked Robinson's friend to move a desk. According to the student, Fields then shut the girl's computer, and moved it to another desk.

Robinson felt something was wrong, and pulled out his phone and began recording.

"When I saw what was about to happen my immediate first thing to think is let me get this on camera. This is going to be something that not only I'm I going to be like 'wow did this really happened at my class' but just something that everybody else needs to see. This is something that we can't let this just pass by.

The officer then began speaking with the student.

"He asked her again, 'will you move, will you move.' She said 'no I have not done anything wrong.; Then he said I'm going to treat you fairly. And she said 'I don't even know who you are.. And that is where it started right there."

Moments later, things turned physical.

"I've never seen anything so nasty looking, so sick to the point that you know, other students are turning away, don't know what to do, and are just scared for their lives," Robinson said. "That's supposed to be somebody that's going to protect us. Not somebody that we need to be scare off, or afraid."

"That was wrong. There was no justifiable reason for why he did that to that girl.

Deputy Ben Fields:

According to ABC News -

"The school resource officer was identified as Ben Fields, according to the Richland County Sheriff's Department. Fields joined the program in 2008 and received a Culture of Excellence award for proving to be an exceptional role model in 2014.

The school website lists Fields as the football team's defensive line coach and strength and conditioning coach.

The Richland County Sheriff's Office said Monday night Fields would be placed on administrative duties.

Fields is one of two resource officer's for Spring Valley High, according to the school district website. The district said it "contracts with the Richland County Sheriff's Department to provide School Resource Officers (SRO) throughout the district. Each SRO is assigned to respond to any facility without a full-time deputy in proximity to his/her primary assignment. These assignments are geographical so as to provide the most rapid response by SROs."

"All schools are instructed to call 911 first in the event of any emergency," the district said. "In doing so, the closest on-duty deputy would be dispatched in addition to the SROs."

Each high school in the district has two resource officers while each middle school, elementary school and alternative school has one officer.

According to WLTX & the Associated Press - 

"The South Carolina school resource officer seen on video pulling a female high school student from her desk and dragging her across a classroom has previously been sued and accused of excessive force and targeting black suspects.

In 2013, a student expelled from Spring Valley High School, where Senior Deputy Ben Fields works, accused the deputy, who is white, of targeting black students after saying the expelled student was a gang member. That case is set to go to trial in January.

In 2010, federal court records show a jury sided with Fields after a black couple accused Fields of excessive force and battery during a 2005 noise complaint arrest in Columbia.

On Monday, Fields was seen on video pulling a black female student from her desk during class. Fields has been put on leave, and the sheriff has asked federal authorities to investigate. Authorities say race did not play a role in the incident.

In a third lawsuit, a woman who reported suspicion of child abuse accused Fields and another deputy of battery and violating her rights during a 2006 arrest. That case was dismissed in 2009.

Local Responses:

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin's response:

"This needs to be dealt with quickly and transparently," Benjamin said in a Facebook statement, adding that this was not "CPD [the Columbia Police Department] or representative of policing that builds trust or confidence!"

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott stated to the local media that he wanted quick answers and voluntarily requested that the FBI and the DOJ to conduct an independent investigation of the violent  incident at Spring Valley."It's very disturbing what happened today. It's something I have to deal with and that's what we're going to be doing"

A statement regarding the violent actions from the Richland School District Two Superintendent Dr. Debbie Hamm was released:

"Our District is deeply concerned about an incident that occurred at Spring Valley High School today. The incident took place between a school resource officer employed by the Richland County Sheriff's Department and a student. Video of the incident is circulating on social media. Student safety is and always will be the District's top priority. The District will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize the safety of our students. Upon learning of the incident, school and district administrators began an investigation. We are working closely and in full cooperation with the Richland County Sheriff's Department to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.Pending the outcome of the investigation, the District has directed that the school resource officer not return to any school in the District."

In another statement Richland Two Board Chairman Jim Manning said:

"I have watched the video several times and there is no doubt that the video is extremely disturbing. The amount of force used on a female student by a male officer appears to me to be excessive and unnecessary. As the parent of a daughter in Richland School District Two I can assure you that we are taking this matter very seriously. The district superintendent has been in constant contact with the Richland County Sheriff to express our concern over this matter and the district has banned the deputy in question from all District Two property. The Sheriff has assured us that a full investigation is under way and that he wants the same questions answered that we all have about this matter.

At this time, I will reserve further comment and judgement until the full investigation has been completed. However, I want to assure you that the Richland Two Board and District staff are committed to the safety of all of our students and are taking immediate steps to ensure that our students are treated with the full respect and dignity that they deserve while in our care.

The federal response (so far):

"The Columbia FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of South Carolina have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of a student at Spring Valley High School," FBI Special Agent in Charge David Thomas said in a statement Tuesday. " The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence in order to determine whether a federal law was violated. As this is an ongoing investigation, per Department of Justice policy we are unable to comment further at this time."

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