Spring-Valley-High-School-Assault

“She should have cooperated.”

These were the words that summed up the opinion of Mr. Long, the Black math teacher at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, S.C.,  who, on Monday Oct 26, initiated student disciplinary process that eventually brought in now former police officer Ben Fields.

Asked by one of his students how he felt about Field’s treatment of the black girl, Long replied “She should have cooperated.”

I keep going over these words again and again in my head. And I’m feeling disturbed.

Much of the heat for what transpired in this black teacher’s class was directed at Ben Fields. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that, given the horrifying optics of the video that went viral across the web on Monday, showing a young black girl student brutally reprimanded for “disturbing the school,” all the attention was thrown on the hulking, white police deputy. Fields became another in a long list of examples of a racist state and racist criminal justice system, producing racist law enforcers.

In the aftermath, a mix of the usual and unusual occurred. Field was placed on “administrative leave.” Richmond Police Department, Field’s employer, called a press conference, and promised an “internal investigation.” Online, petitions went up demanding the offending officer be fired. On Wednesday Oct 28th, he was. (That’s the unusual part, in case you’re wondering).

And yet, something peculiar happened amid all this — hardly any word was published about Mr. Long’s reaction.

Strange, given that before any administrator or principle was called in to resolve the issue involving a Black girl student “mouthing” off or “getting smart”; before Fields — assigned at school as a student resource officer — literally grabbed her by the neck and, lifting the desk bottom, threw her to on ground for nonviolently refusing to comply with his order, before slinging and dragging her to the front of the class; before fellow classmate Niya Kenney, praying and crying and afraid, intervened to defend a child she described as someone who “ain’t got nobody”; there was, simply, an exchange between teacher and student.

That exchange, that relationship, precipitated the events that followed.

Which is why I keep going back to those words uttered by the Black male teacher.

“She should have cooperated.”

Why I’m asking myself how Mr. Long, a sixteen year veteran educator, allowed something as minute and juvenile as “chewing gum” and using a cell phone to escalate that far. Why I’m wondering how he understood in his mind the steps he took to correct or manage this black girl’s behavior, and thereby regain control of the classroom. Why he thought the end result, a black girl manhandled by a white officer, was perfectly acceptable.

Was she so disengaged, so disinterested, so inattentive, so forlorn, as to warrant this level of reprimand? Was his ego bruised because she did not obey his request? Was he upset that she derailed his classroom agenda for day off course? Did he feel embarrassed, due to an inability to control the situation?

Maybe all these apply. Maybe, for some, they’re perfectly reasonable. But, honestly, I really don’t give a damn. Wanna know why? Because no rationale, no amount of perverted reasoning could ever warrant what Fields did in that classroom, and scars he inflicted on that black girl; and no amount of logical maneuvering justifies this Black teacher standing there, silently watching and rooting Fields on as he brutalized her.

The classroom is not only an arena for molding critical thinkers, but a microcosm of practicing citizenship, democracy, compassion, and conflict resolution. In this space, teachers are charged with representing these values, and putting them into action. Mr. Long, Black male teacher, didn’t do this. He showed a kind of zero wisdom that perfectly matched the zero tolerance school policies of the educational institution employing him.

He didn’t probe. He didn’t engage. He didn’t assess. He didn’t care.

In short, he didn’t practice the very democratic values students are expected to master and practice on and off school grounds.

Instead, he instigated — yes, I said it. Instigated — an incident resulting in his student’s black girl body being brutalized by the state. He might’ve — just might’ve — acted differently. Showed what compassion, wisdom, democracy, healthy conflict resolution look like. How these values work.

But, he didn’t; and that matters. And, writers should be discussing his actions as much as Ben Fields. Because Long, too, is paid by the state.

Public analysis of Spring Valley is well underway. In the coming days, we will read much about white supremacy, school-to-prison pipeline, criminalizing Black behavior, race and discipline, student behavioral management, carceral logic, miseducation and negligence of black youth. On and on.

It’s even possible some public schools across the country may have been triggered to evaluate their own process of engaging at risk youth and managing student behavior. 

But my mind keeps going back to that veteran Black teacher’s heartless, haunting words.

“She should have cooperated.”

They’re still disturbing me. They should disturb you too.

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