Spring Valley: Let the Arguments Begin

Roughly three weeks ago, footage of an altercation between school resource officer Ben Fields and a high school student went viral. With the speedy nature at which information travels, it’s hard to determine whether the footage first emerged via social media or a 24/7 news network. Either way, the incident at Spring Valley high school, located in Columbia, South Carolina, received national attention.

Watching the footage it is easy to see why a lot of people are disturbed, but first let’s deal with what led up to the incident. In an exclusive interview with WLTX, Tony Robinson Jr., one of the students that recorded the incident, said it all started because the girl was caught by the teacher with her phone out. According to Robinson, the teacher then ask the teenager to hand over the phone, to which she declined. After threatening to call an administrator she still declined. The teacher then called an administrator, but she wouldn’t comply with him either. According to Robinson, the young lady was pleading with the administrator, maintaining that she had done nothing wrong, and that she only pulled her phone out for a second. Robinson also said she was pleading and begging with the administrator; being apologetic about the situation. After the administrator couldn’t gain ground on the situation he called SRO Deputy Ben Fields to the classroom.

The first thing the deputy did when he arrived in the classroom was ask a student (Robinson’s friend) to move his desk, which was in front of the girl’s desk. To quote Robinson, “And to me, that’s a sign of…he could already tell what he was about to do.”

Now, piecing together Robinson’s account with what are visible and audible moments caught by his smartphone, the next thing Deputy Fields did was remove the teenager’s Chrome Book from her desk, placing it on another desk. Robinson says Fields asks the girl, “Will you move…will you move?” Robinson said the young lady responded, “I’ve done nothing wrong.” Below is what I can gather from the audio in his recorded footage.

Fields: Are you going to come with me or not?

<They both exchange words> (inaudible)

Fields: I treated you fair last year, right?

Student: I don’t know you.

Fields: You don’t know me?

Fields: Are you going to come with me or am I going to make you? Come on, I’m going to get you up.

After the last statement Deputy Fields then forcibly removed the young woman from the seat by flipping the desk backwards and then gained further control over the situation by slinging her across the room, ultimately putting the teenage in handcuffs. I think we’ve covered enough in relation to the scene, but if people want to see Tony Robinson’s full interview with WLTX’s Darcy Strickland, they should visit the site.

I’m a frequent user of Facebook, and I’m going to assume that most of the people reading this are as well. When friends of mine collectively chime in on a particular topic or incident, I’m frequently disappointed at the level of sophistry that’s conveyed through the news feed. I’m not going to spend time listing every tactical misconstruction, but focus on the three that I observe the most.

1. Memes, memes, and more memes These can be fun and useful, but when used to express opinions on more complicated and nuanced matters, they usually fall short of anything meaningful. Instead of dealing with the complexity of an issue, it’s wrapped in an attractive little postcard type message.

2. Purposely distorting reality Interjecting unrelated information and material to support an idea.

3. Unsubstantiated claims by means of generalizing Subjective opinions asserted as fact in reference to persons, places, or things.

Most of my friends grew up and/or live in close proximity to the high school were the incident occurred, which really had an impact on my Facebook feed, and of course all of the above mentioned approaches were in full effect as friends posted status updates pertaining to the Spring Valley incident.    

#1 in action with the posting of the following memes, both of which I had seen before, and conveniently started cycling again the day the Spring Valley story broke and almost a week after.

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This is a kind of combination of #1 and #3, but since the point is being made in picture form, I put it in the first category.  Expressing this kind of black and white sentiment is careless and irresponsible.

A. It’s suggesting that police brutality complaints are only focused towards “bratty” minors, and not adults.

B. Does being a brat justify police brutality?

C. Notice is it doesn’t say that police brutality doesn’t exist. *It says it’s not the “real” problem, which suggests that police brutality is a good and logical solution, and is okay, just as long as it’s levied upon “bratty” kiddos.* I have one question, since we’re on the topic of kids. Was Tamir Rice a brat?

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See, why they gotta’ use Gene Wilder’s face to promote foolishness? 

A. It assumes that people that are treated badly by law enforcement have broken the law. Ever heard of stop & frisk? No, well then look it up for yourself.

B. It assumes that law enforcement personnel always make lawful request.

C. Is there some sort of meter, or graph available so that the public can know how bad someone “deserves” to be treated based on what law they’ve supposedly broken?

#2 came into play when many of my friends started conveniently posting videos of teachers and resource officers getting assaulted by students, starting the day after the Spring Valley story broke and the week that it was still the buzz. They were usually posted with a status that read something to the effect of, “This is what teachers go through now a days.”

Most of the videos I saw were old videos. And, even if they were videos that exposed a current situation, what is the purpose of interjecting situations that aren’t even similar? What does that even prove? I know what you all might be thinking. Hey, how do you know that your friends were posting those videos as some sort of subtle response? Well, you’re right, I don’t know for sure. I just thought it was mighty convenient that 15-20 friends started sharing “violent student attacks teacher” videos in the wake of a brewing controversy. It’s just too much of a coincidence. 

A. Violent, aggressive, and belligerent students that put teachers and everyone else in physical danger should not be treated the same as a student that is merely being “non-compliant”; especially over a cellphone issue.

B. Posting videos that illustrate completely dissimilar circumstances is an attempt to merge two different realities for the purpose of distorting one of the events, trying to make one appear like something it is not. I have a slight suspicion that people that do this aren’t merely doing it to spread awareness or information, but as personal application of conscience acquittal.

And here goes an example of #3. I blocked the name and profile picture of this friend because I think their anonymity should be respected. There was another friend that posted something similar, but after I questioned her, she deleted the post. 

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Ah yes, the “This generation doesn’t have respect for authority” fairy tale. You know, I was racking my brain trying to decide how I might tackle this one, but I realized that I don’t have to prove a negative. I don’t have to prove this generation isn’t “MORE” defiant to authority than any previous generations. The people that make the claim have to show me that the premise is true. Three weeks ago, I asked a handful of friends that promoted the fairy tale to expound on its validity. Not one of them has responded.

A. First, we have a subjective, non-quantifiable opinion about an entire generation. Then, without knowing who the teenager is, draw a parallel between that opinion and her, simply because she is a part of said generation. There’s absolutely nothing within the three videos released that would reveal anything about her complete personality. Therefore, people’s assumptions about her overall lived behavior and activity are specious, particularly because they are based on a collective straw man. First the generational straw man. Second, the individual straw man based on the first straw man. This is a straw man within a straw man; straw man inception.

B. If this generation has an unprecedented lack of respect for authority, how do people explain the 100+ students that protested his firing? I’m not saying that their protest vindicated Deputy Fields (He was a football and strength and conditioning coach, so I’m pretty sure he a lot of students liked him). How does one teenage girl’s actions prompt such a knee jerk generalization, but 100+ kids standing up on behalf of the very same authority not contradict that generalization?

C. Isn’t President Obama the most recognizable authority figure? Well, from my observations it hasn’t been teenagers that have been the most disrespectful towards President Obama during both of his campaigns and throughout both of his presidential terms.  The individuals and groups that launch non-political, personal, and petty potshots at the president aren’t made up of teenagers, right?

While we’re on the subject of authority, let’s take a quick glance at some quotes from those that are in key leadership positions. I wonder what their take is on the matter.

“I wanted to throw up. This makes you sick to your stomach when you see that initial video. But that’s just a snapshot.”

The sheriff called his actions “unacceptable,” and said videos recorded by her classmates show the girl posed no danger to anyone.

Additional quotes made at press conference by Sheriff Leon Lott:

“What he should not have done is throw the student.” 

“Police officers make mistakes too. They’re human and they need to be held accountable, and that’s what we’ve done with Deputy Ben Fields.”

“When you make an arrest of someone who does not have a weapon, you never let go of the subject. When he threw her across the room, he let go of her. That’s what violates our policy,” 

“She wasn’t a danger at that point; she was just being non-compliant and disrespectful. You try to de-escalate a situation. And when you do have to put your hands on someone, there are other techniques we use.”

“He and other deputies were trained not to throw or push subjects away unless they are in danger.”

This is quote from Curtis Lavarello, head of the School Safety Advocacy Council:

“We saw a pretty routine discipline issue become a criminal issue in just a matter of minutes…It escalated needlessly.”

James Manning, head of the Richland School District Two board, called the video “extremely disturbing.”

Quotes made by Manning at press conference:

“There is absolutely no place in this district, or any other district for that matter, for what happened here yesterday. Our tolerance for it is zero.”

“The district would evaluate and strengthen training of personnel with respect to when it’s appropriate to involve school resource officers, and work with law enforcement to beef up screening and training of such officers.”

“What we all watched on that shamefully shocking video is reprehensible, unforgivable, and inconsistent with everything that this district stands for, what we work for, and what we aspire to be.”

Richland School District Two. Superintendent Dr. Libby Roof released the following statement:

“Our District is deeply concerned about an incident that occurred at Spring Valley High School today. 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.”

So, there you have it. Those were concrete statements made by four authority figures concerning the actions of Deputy Fields. What can you honestly gather from these statements? Seeing as they are authority figures, do you value their perspective and final say?

Alright, let me take a quick break. When I want to see what others are saying about an issue, I like to visit as many sites as my patience will allow and peruse the comment section. These are the 5 most common themes I noticed when reviewing user discussions.   

1. “They were both at fault (Fields & Teenager)” > Sorry, there is no equivalence between a 16 year old teenager and a trained law enforcement officer who is 34 years of age. To judge their actions equally is an insult to reason. Plus, they’re forgetting that there were two other adults that were involved in the situation. Are we really going to hold a teenager to the same conflict resolution standards as school administrators and law enforcement personnel?

2. “The teenager caused ALL of it” > Uh no, breaking a rule doesn’t mean she’s completely responsible for the entire ordeal. She, by herself, didn’t escalate the situation, like Lavarello suggested. This point also contradicts #1

3. “You’re not a cop. You’ve never had to deal with situations like this. You probably wouldn’t know how to react, so you have no room to criticize.” > I see this tired argument all the time. How many skilled jobs could any one of us perform without any training?  We volunteer to work a particular occupation, get trained in various capacities, and then we execute that training in the line of duty.  I’m not trained or paid to practice law enforcement. Also, by employing this type of reasoning, there is almost an endless amount of human activities they also wouldn’t be able to scrutinize.

4. “Respect starts in the home.” I blame her parents for not teaching her how to respect authority > Well, too bad she is in foster care. I also love how people have so much inner knowledge of a person’s home life without knowing anything about them. Shoot, who knows what kind of emotions she was battling.

5. “You don’t know what happened because you weren’t there! ! ! Now, let me take the time to tell you exactly what happened even though I wasn’t there either.”

Okay, back on track so I can get this thing over with…

If there was video footage showing a parent dealing with their “defiant”, but non-violent and non-belligerent child in the same way, what do you think the reaction would have been? I’m just speculating, but there probably would have been a mass of armchair parents judging the parent’s tactics, and demanding they be arrested for child abuse. And for further comparison, what kind of reaction do we commonly see from the public after they’ve watched a video of a pet owner using brutal force as a means of disciplining their “defiant” pet? I think we all know the answer to that one.  But, apparently wearing a shield grants a person unrestricted power and protection from criticism.

Reasonable people aren’t denying the teenager violated classroom policy. Reasonable people aren’t denying she didn’t want to give up her phone. Reasonable people aren’t denying she didn’t want to exit the classroom. Reasonable people aren’t denying she was being non-compliant. But, reasonable people understand that non-hostile defiance shouldn’t be treated the same as belligerent disruptive chaos. She indeed broke a classroom rule. This isn’t in dispute, but was she really “disturbing” school because of it? If not, then why wasn’t the situation handled differently? I know what you’re thinking. Well, if you were Ben Fields, what would you have done? Actually, when I suggest that the situation could have been handled differently, I’m actually suggesting that the solution to the situation could have very well not extended beyond the teacher or administrator. The teacher could have ignored her, continued with the lesson, and dealt with her after class. The teacher or the administrator could have tried sliding her and the desk out to the hallway. The question I have for people that think Deputy Field’s presence was actually needed or think his actions were justified: Does mere disrespect in the form of “non-compliance” need to be met with brutal force? Intimidation, bodily abuse, and promoting a system of control through fear isn’t a good message to teach children.

 

 

Michael White

Michael White is a freelance writer from Columbia, South Carolina. While focusing on a range of social issues, White takes a logical approach in an attempt to encourage readers to form a well-rounded viewpoint.

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