I&Q: Is violence making a sinister move into US schools?

A US school-based police officer was fired this week for violently arresting a female student

Richland County Sheriff’s Department officer Ben Fields pictured with Karen Beaman, principal of Lonnie B. Nelson Elementary School. Photograph: REUTERS/Richland County Sheriff’s Department

Richland County Sheriff’s Department officer Ben Fields pictured with Karen Beaman, principal of Lonnie B. Nelson Elementary School. Photograph: REUTERS/Richland County Sheriff’s Department

 

Not a week goes by in the US without some shaky phone footage surfacing showing police brutality, for the most part directed at members of the African-American community.

This week was no different. A South Carolina school-based police officer, Ben Fields, was fired for violently flipping a 16-year-old female student upside-down in her chair and then throwing her across the classroom as he arrested her. The offence? She had refused to put away her phone and then refused to leave the classroom.

The incident was filmed by at least three fellow students and their videos posted on the internet where they were widely shared with the hashtag #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh

It has since blown up into a storm of outrage.

School resource officers, as they are known, are stationed in schools under community policing programmes and are typically sent in to help reduce crime, drug abuse and – ironically – violence.

Niya Kenny (18) told CNN she encouraged fellow classmates to record Fields on their phones when he came to the classroom, as he had a reputation for violence. Associated Press reported that legal action was brought against him three times, including by a black couple who accused him of excessive force during a noise complaint arrest.

The girl, who was largely unhurt in the incident save for a carpet burn, was arrested for “disturbing schools”.

New battleground

Michael BrownMissouriEric GarnerFreddie Gray

Schools mark a new battleground.

In Oklahoma a school police officer was charged with assault on Wednesday for allegedly punching a 16-year-old student in the face after he was found out of class.

FBI director James Comey rowed into the debate last week when he provocatively suggested the acute focus on police brutality may have led police to be less aggressive and, in turn, an upturn in crime.

President Barack Obama has walked a tightrope on the issue, defending Black Lives Matter demonstrators while encouraging police to tackle the increase in violent crime in some cities.

On a tour to push Congress to overhaul an oppressively harsh criminal justice system, Obama told a gathering of police chiefs in Chicago this week: “Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of our society.”

On Thursday, he praised a female Washington DC officer for defusing a fight between teenagers in a city park by challenging one of them to a dance-off to the popular song Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).

“Who knew community policing could involve the Nae Nae? Great example of police having fun while keeping us safe,” Obama tweeted.

Mobile phone footage of the Nae Nae dance-off also went viral, but it will take a lot of positive images to counterbalance the shocking videos showing police overstepping the mark.