On The School-To-Prison Pipeline And Why Firing South Carolina Officer Ben Fields Is Not Enough

October 29, 2015  |  


Have you heard about a system called the school-to-prison pipeline?

If not, the American Civil Liberties Union, also known as the ACLU, has a pretty decent and brief description of it.

“The ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ refers to the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education.”

This pipeline theory is a crucial detail missing from most discussions around the brutal attack on the Spring Valley High School student by South Carolina Deputy Ben Fields.

Now that Fields has been terminated from his position, most feel that this issue has been resolved.

But, to the contrary, Officer Body Slam is just a small piece along a pipeline aimed at disenfranchising and criminalizing at-risk children.

In addition to Officer Fields, this pipeline also includes the unnamed student’s teacher. He not only called in a school police officer to address a nonviolent issue because he was too lazy and impatient to simply ask the question of “What’s wrong?” but he also stood aside sheepishly as that same student was viciously assaulted.

Was she being defiant? Sure. Most kids are. Even yours. I have yet to meet a teenager without an attitude. But was that enough reason for him to escalate matters by inviting into the classroom an officer who allegedly saw no other way to address the situation other than by slamming her on the ground and tossing her across the room like his least favorite inanimate object?

Morally speaking, heck no!

But legally speaking, the teacher was unfortunately within his rights. At least that’s the case according to a portion of South Carolina’s Code of Law, which makes it unlawful “for any person wilfully or unnecessarily (a) to interfere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers. Next of any school or college in this State, (b) to loiter about such school or college premises or (c) to act in an obnoxious manner thereon.”

You read right. In the state of South Carolina, your child can get body slammed to the ground and arrested for being an obnoxious, but non-violent, brat.

As recently reported by the Washington Post, disrupting school is a misdemeanor offense and those found guilty face a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine or 90 days in a county jail. The Post article also noted that “disturbing schools is the third-most common charge in cases referred to the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice, just behind assault and battery and shoplifting, according to 2014 department data.”

And it gets worse.

As noted by this recent article in The Atlantic, South Carolina is one of the 19 states that still allows corporal punishment in schools. And most of the recipients (58 percent) are African-American kids.

As the article in The Atlantic also notes:

“Expand out to discipline overall and the disparities get starker. A University of Pennsylvania study found that 60 percent of suspended students in the South Carolina are black. (The analysis found large disparities across the South, as compared to the national average.) A 2013 report by the South Carolina Advisory Commission to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found something similar by studying three specific districts.”

What this suggests to me is that Officer Fields was not the only individual along this pipeline out to get that teenage girl that day.

Also preying on this child was the teacher who out of either spite or a bruised ego, sold her out to a flawed system aimed at punishing, maligning and humiliating her. And the school board and state officials who both draft and push for these zero-tolerance policies. And the sheriff’s department, which not only assigned that maniac to work with actual children but seeks to blame the child for her own assault.

And the absurd amount of grown folks including Raven-Symoné, Don Lemon and your spiteful granddad who have all tried to justify the abuse waged against this child.

I am talking about those folks who blame the girl for not respecting authority while not actually considering how the authority itself is not only targeting your kids, but rigging the game to make kids look like the disrespectful ones in the process. Those folks who deny our kids emotions and behaviors typical of any child regardless of race going through their mid-adolescent developmental years (as defined by the American Medical Association).

Those folks who are so blinded by their hatred of Black people that they refuse to see our children as children. And those folks who want to mask their own shame at our own inability to stand up to White supremacy and protect, defend and advocate for our own damn kids, that they blame the kids for being uppity.

What is most striking about that video is what little was said. Nobody asked that child what was wrong. Nobody pulled her to the side and attempted a heart-to-heart conversation with her like we’ve seen done many times in instances involving defiant White kids. Nobody cared that she had just lost her family and that her living situation had been disrupted. Nobody thought about the possibility that she was scared, sad and anxious. Nobody called in a school counselor for a one-on-one session.

In short, nobody gave a damn about her suffering.

If school is supposed to be a place of learning, you have to wonder what exactly we are teaching these kids. In particular, Black kids. Are we molding Black children to be critical and objective thinkers? Are we teaching them that they have a right not to have their spaces violently violated? Are we teaching Black kids that respect is not just about giving it to others, but the expectation of it in return?

In other words, are we trying to raise well-adjusted people or perpetual second-class citizens who are taught to not only accept but respect our abuse?

When you think about the school-to-prison pipeline theory, it certainly feels like the latter. After all, a system that puts incarceration (and dare I say, profits) over education has to dehumanize our children so that nobody will care when the state eventually takes them, brands them and locks them away for good.

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