Ella Baker Center Statement on #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh

On October 26, a female student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, was violently thrown from her desk and arrested by Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields. The following is a statement from the staff of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights regarding this incident:

“On Monday we witnessed the assault of a young black girl at the hands of Ben Fields, a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School with a history of complaints alleging excessive force, free speech violations, and lack of due process.

We were appalled to watch the attack on this student, especially as it reveals an over-reliance on law enforcement to manage everyday conflicts that could easily be resolved nonviolently. Schools should be a place of learning, encouragement, and safety—not one where police officers are free to use force and arrest students for disagreeing with their teachers. 

The attack on this student is like that of too many others we have witnessed against our black youth, from Officer Eric Casebolt assaulting a bikini-clad teenage girl in McKinney, Texas in June, to Stockton police officers beating a 16-year-old boy for jaywalking in September. It is also indicative of the disturbing ways that people of color are criminalized from a young age and the way that the school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately impacts youth of color. According to the African American Policy Forum's 2015 report, black girls are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls.  

It is important that Officer Fields be held accountable for his actions, and it is also critical that we end punishment-first approaches and begin supporting and caring for vulnerable communities. For these reasons, the Ella Baker Center advocates for a process of truth and reinvestment. We must examine how our country's long history of racism, segregation, and oppression has created a criminal justice system that targets low-income families and communities of color, and focus on reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by criminalization and incarceration.

We hope that this girl will heal from both the physical and emotional wounds of this attack, and support the community that is advocating on her behalf.”