In South Carolina earlier this week a black 16-year-old girl was assaulted by a white (former) deputy, Ben Fields. After Fields was fired for his behavior countless victim-blaming memes and articles starting showing up on my newsfeed.
This one was shared the most:
The masses have begun to applaud the termination of the officer who “assaulted” a black teen and became the face of “police brutality” this week on social media while everyone seemed to weigh in on his actions. However, before the celebrations begin, there’s something to consider.
The article argues that the force used by Fields was necessary because the girl was “disrupting class.”
According to the girl’s attorney, she didn’t comply with requests to leave the classroom because she felt the punishment was unfair. She had already put her phone away, she was not disrupting the class at the time the officer was called into he room. This is simply a case a person with “authority” overreacting to a person without it stepping out of line.
This speaks to a different problem in our culture: we claim we believe in democracy, individualism and freedom, but many times our society clearly favors authoritarianism. This is especially true with children. In America children are routinely treated as if they do not have the right to disagree, say no, or make a stand.
These things are seen as major offenses worthy of punishment—often times corporal in nature. We can see this clearly when looking at the arguments of many advocates of spanking hitting children. They believe—despite countless studies pointing to the contrary—that violence is an effective way of getting children to step into line.
It’s no wonder that these same people often believe that police violence against minorities is an acceptable form of justice. It’s all a part of the same authoritarian outlook. The more privilege you have, the more authority you are assigned, and the more respect you can demand, violently. The less privilege you have, the more likely your “defiance” of authority will be met with violence. It’s really not surprising that a white officer couldn’t handle being told no by a black girl.
As a teen I was often described as “troubled” in school. My whiteness most likely played a large part in the adults in my life’s willingness to see me as needing help, instead of being a threat. I did things way more threatening than refusing to leave a classroom. I hit my therapist repeatedly with a chess board over the head one time. When a fellow student tried to restrain me, I bit him. No one in that school hit me. I was offered help.
As a teen I acted in ways I would never act now. I grew and learned appropriate ways of handling other people. I didn’t have the training Deputy Ben Fields had. And still, somehow, I deal with my teens not listening without choking or body slamming them. He should’ve known better. And maybe he did. I can’t help but wonder how he would’ve reacted to me as a teen. Somehow, I think it would’ve been different.
Navarre Overton is the founder of and editor at Raising Revolution. She is a stay-at-home mom, feminist, freelance writer, and student . You can reach her on Twitter, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.